Jen Gerson | June 16, 2014
Ric McIver at Calgary’s March for Jesus. His association with an anti-gay evangelical has raised controversy, despite his insistence that he deplores “discrimination against all groups and individuals without exception.”
Ric McIver considers Artur Pawlowski a friend
CALGARY — Ric McIver is a regular at this city’s March for Jesus: In 2013, he cut the ribbon for the parade. Mr. McIver has said he considers the march’s organizer, well-known local evangelical Artur Pawlowski, a friend.
That relationship suddenly proved controversial on Monday.
A picture of a smiling Mr. McIver — who is running for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives, and thereby for premier — is featured prominently on the web site of Mr. Pawlowski’s Street Church. Nearby is a condemnation of homosexuals, saying they flaunt their nakedness and are followers of the devil: “They are not ashamed to declare the name of their master (Satan) and in the same way not concerned with provoking greatly the wrath of the Living God.”
As Mr. McIver’s association with the church bloomed into apparent scandal on Monday, Mr. McIver tried to walk a fine line. He said he did not support the views of the evangelical group, but he did not condemn it.
“As an Albertan and if chosen Premier, I do and will continue to defend equality rights for all Albertans as defined in the Charter, including sexual orientation. I deplore discrimination against all groups and individuals without exception,” he said in a statement released Monday. However, “I shall continue to attend events celebrating the diversity of Alberta.”
By the end of the day, Mr. McIver was taking heavy flak on social media, and even an apparent rebuke from party president Jim McCormick: “Closed mindedness or intolerance have no place in the PCAA,” he said in a statement. “Tolerance and acceptance in this province is vital for us to continue to be a strong and vibrant society.”
Keith Brownsey, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said Mr. McIver’s response to the controversy suggests that he’s not willing to alienate social conservatives ahead of September’s leadership vote.
“He has to appeal to these people as … they will be a strong part of his support in this race,” Mr. Brownsey said.
Nonetheless, Mr. McIver — considered to be facing tough odds against former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice to win the PC leadership — has blunted the PCs’ most effective attack against the upstart opposition Wildrose Party.
The Tories have argued that the Wildrose are a unique Albertan entity; the party lost the 2012 election after candidates made remarks that were deemed to be homophobic and racist.
“It closes off a big, big avenue of attack on the Wildrose — or, at least, it makes it much more difficult. It’s remarkable,” Mr. Brownsey said.
The Wildrose Party has made attempts since its 2012 election loss to de-emphasize its social conservative roots — by including protections for race and sexual orientation in its constitution.
Meanwhile, the PCs’ social conservative ties have continued largely unnoticed. (A picture of Solicitor General Jonathan Denis is also published on the site owned by Mr. Pawlowski’s organization; Mr. Denis on Monday condemned the group and its language.)
Craig Chandler, former CEO of the Concerned Christian Coalition and once an outspoken critic of gay marriage, is seeking the PC nomination in Calgary-Shaw. A McIver ally, Mr. Chandler was rejected as a candidate by former premier Ed Stelmach in 2007.
In April a motion that would have compelled school boards to allow for gay/straight alliances was defeated, with much hay made of the fact that eight Wildrose MLAs voted it down. However, 22 PC MLAs also voted against motion.
Said Kent Hehr, who put forward the gay/straight alliance motion: “Much of the PCs’ base, or former base, tends to be of a social conservative bent. And it appears that either Mr. McIver and Mr. Denis are trying to corner that vote, or they simply didn’t pay attention to the reasonable signposts out there.”
But Ric Dolphin, a journalist who now publishes a regular newsletter on the goings-on in the Alberta legislature, said the controversy may not be a blow to Mr. McIver’s leadership bid at all.
“Obviously there are social conservatives [in government] and they keep it to themselves for the most part. In this instance, it’s been outed. I’m not sure how it’s going to affect McIver, it might even help him with the voting base,” he said.