Alberta Premier Rachel Notley took aim at the province’s two conservative parties over online abuse of an openly gay staffer. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Alberta premier says opponents should stand down if won’t fight for human rights

EDMONTON — Premier Rachel Notley is taking aim at Alberta’s two conservative parties over online abuse of an openly gay staffer by saying leaders should either step up to fight for human rights or step aside.

Notley says Wildrose Leader Brian Jean’s comments on Cody Johnston were late and done “a bit reluctantly” while the comments of Progressive Conservative Leader Jason Kenney were non-existent.

“Both leaders should have proactively spoken out to say that the commentary that was made was inappropriate and that it was not welcome in the party, and that they would not tolerate it,” Notley said in Calgary after an announcement Thursday about a new cancer centre.

“The reality is that we have a human rights code in the province of Alberta. We have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the country of Canada.

“Any party that is hoping to lead this province in this day and age must be prepared to adamantly stand in defence of both of those things and the people that they are designed to protect.

“If they aren’t, I don’t believe that they’re in a position where they should be seeking that office.”

On Saturday, Johnston reported online abuse from Wildrose supporters after he made known he was attending Edmonton’s Pride parade that celebrates sexual and gender diversity.

“What kind of crap is this that you’re mailing out in the name of the Wildrose party,” wrote one critic in a comment made public by Johnston.

“This party does not support this kind of lifestyle and we certainly don’t promote it.”

Another wrote: “The intent of these events (is) to promote a sinful lifestyle. Do not give viewers the impression that this is Wildrose approved.”

Jean disagreed with Notley.

“I wasn’t late to the party. I was driving from one part of the province to the other,” he said in an interview.

“This is a situation where fearmongering is the only defensive weapon that seems to be within the arsenal of the NDP.”

The memberships of those who made the comments are being reviewed by the party, Jean said, and the line is clear.

“It’s time to make sure that those people who want to spew hate are not invited to any political party, not just my political party.”

Johnston has worked for the caucus for years, Jean said.

“Everybody knows he’s gay. Nobody cares. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t come into our discussions,” he said.

“I don’t think these hate comments are in any way reflective of my caucus, of my staff and of my supporters.”

Added Kenney: “I condemn any hateful or intolerant remarks. I have done so consistently.

“I’ve done that throughout this campaign and throughout my political career and will continue to,” he said in an interview.

Kenney said that in the year he has been campaigning with the PCs, “I haven’t encountered any hateful sentiments of this nature in the party.

“I understand the Wildrose party is looking at taking action on this, so I would look forward to see what they’re going to do.”

Jean’s Wildrose and Kenney’s PCs have reached a tentative agreement to merge pending approval of rank-and-file members next month.

Both have been accused of intolerance toward LGBTQ members.

In the 2012 election, the Wildrose saw a late lead in the polls evaporate after then-party leader Danielle Smith refused to sanction a candidate who had, in a blog post, urged gays to repent or face an afterlife of eternal damnation in hell’s “lake of fire.”

This past March, Kenney was criticized for suggesting he would ensure parents were told if their children joined a gay-straight alliance at school, but not if it could mean harm to a child.

Both Jean and Kenney have been criticized for failing to attend Pride events, although the parties sent representatives to the Edmonton parade last weekend.

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