The Alberta NDP will face voters April 16 and it is expected that Rachel Notley’s government will fall to the United Conservative Party led by former pro-life federal MP Jason Kenney.

Jason Kenney; leader of the United Conservative Party.

Jason Kenney; leader of the United Conservative Party.

Kenney, a former co-chair of the Parliamentary Pro-Life Caucus in the 1990s and erstwhile immigration minister under Stephen Harper, returned to Alberta in 2016 and united the right-leaning Wildrose and Progressive Conservative parties. While Kenney would prefer to focus on the Alberta economy and stagnant energy sector, the NDP is trying to make various moral issues hot topics to scare voters away from the conservative leader.

When the election was called last month the NDP launched the website “The truth about Jason Kenney,” which casts the UCP leader as an anti-abortion, anti-gay extremist, latching onto his voting record over his 19 years in federal politics and various speeches he’s made over that time. At the same time, the Broadbent Institute-affiliated, pro-NDP “news” website is revealing supposedly controversial social media posts by UCP candidates, claiming two MLA candidates thus far. The Twitter and Facebook posts were generally on topics such as homosexuality, transgenderism, and immigration.

Two candidates have dropped out after posting supposedly offensive comments or sharing pointed memes. One, Eva Kiryakos, was a pro-life and pro-family candidate running for the UCP in Calgary-South East but withdrew after it was reported she said in online comments that children should not be “brainwashed into accepting perversions” such as transgender and sharing another post about Muslim migrants in Germany raping women.

There was also a campaign against Jeremy Wong, an evangelical pastor running in Calgary Mountain View, who had replaced an allegedly controversial candidate, Caylan Ford. Ford wondered online about a double-standard against whites and stepped down as a candidate. Wong was criticized for appearing to support conversion therapy, which helps people working through unwanted same-sex attractions. Several provinces, including B.C. and Ontario, ban conversion therapy. Wong was also condemned for a sermon on Ephesians 5, which says that wives should “submit to your husbands.” Wong said that sometimes “women are more in touch with their emotions than men,” while men “are more cerebral.” Despite pressure from the NDP and media, Wong has not dropped out of the race.

Premier Notley launched her campaign inveighing against Kenney, saying he has “a nasty record of intolerance which should have no place in the premier’s office.” Kenney responded: “The NDP has got to resort to the politics of personal destruction because they can’t possibly defend the worst economic record in Alberta’s modern history.”

Despite the attacks on Kenney as a social conservative extremist, some pro-life leaders are concerned about the positions Kenney has taken since the federal Tories lost their majority in 2015. Jack Fonseca of Campaign Life Coalition condemned the NDP for “spinning Kenney’s past pro-family actions into looking spiteful against homosexuals and women, when in fact Kenney’s pro-family actions benefited the common good of society, and are beliefs shared by a huge number of Albertans.” But he also expressed disappointment in the UCP leader for “abandoning his socially-conservative beliefs.” Kenney has repeatedly said he will not reopen the abortion issue, including as recently as February. When the NDP government introduced the bubble zone legislation, Kenney’s UCP abstained from voting claiming it was a political stunt. Fonseca said Kenney and the United Conservative Party had a chance to stand in defense of freedom of speech and freedom of association, but chose instead to “flee” the legislature in a “moment of shameful cowardice.”

At the 2016 federal Conservative policy convention, Kenney also spoke in favour of removing language that defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others and during a UCP policy convention in 2018 said he would ignore a resolution protecting parental rights in allowing mothers and fathers to be informed if their children were involved in a Gay-Straight Alliance club at school. Furthermore, after the UCP was rejected as a participant in official gay pride events in the province, it held its own Edmonton UCP Pride, at which Kenney said, “We’re free to love as we choose to love, we are free to live our own lives, and I think, at its best, that’s what Pride seeks to celebrate.”

Despite reservations about Kenney, Fonseca says the NDP has demonstrated disdain for “Christians, free speech, parental rights, and children in the womb.” The NDP has made the abortion pill available free to users under the provincial health plan, passed an anti-free speech bubble zone outside the province’s free-standing abortion mills in Edmonton and Calgary, and enacted Bill 24, which prohibits schools from informing parents when their child joins a Gay-Straight Alliance club (GSA) at school. The NDP has also said it wants to extend the bubble zone to school zones, an unprecedented policy in Canada.

Kenney has campaigned on parental rights and promises to reverse the current GSA law which requires all schools, including private religious ones, to create gay-straight clubs if a student requests one, which mandates that schools advertise GSAs both within the building and online, and prevents school staff from informing parents if their children join a GSA. Kenney will bring back the previous PC government’s GSA law which did not apply to private schools and did not block parental notification. The NDP response to this policy is to label Kenney homophobic and predict the policy could lead to increased suicide among self-identified homosexual and transgender children and greater acts of violence against them. NDP candidate Sarah Hoffman (Edmonton-Glenora) claims that Kenney’s plan would “out” children and leave them “unprotected.”

Kenney’s 15-point education plan would also affirm the right of parents to choose the best education for their kids, including maintaining current taxpayer-funding for private and charter schools; the NDP has mused about lowering funding for non-state-run schools. Alberta provides private schools 70 per cent of the funding per student that public schools receive.

The NDP wants to bring in universal subsidized daycare. Notley announced a campaign promise to provide $25-a-day daycare for parents, as well as funding and more flexible hours for care. Notley said the goal was to increase female participation in the workforce. The program is estimated to cost $1.5 billion over the next five years.

Jeff Gunnarson, national president of CLC, said that despite Kenney’s “betrayal of grassroots pro-lifers,” Campaign Life Coalition reiterates its position that voters should “vote based on the merit of the local candidate.” Gunnarson told The Interimthat his organization is encouraging supporters to determine where local MLA candidates stand on important life and family issues, and vote for those willing to defend the sanctity of human life.

Information about local candidates will be available on the Campaign Life website.