Better late than never, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith has recognized that building a big-tent party does not mean making room for intolerance.
In a recent interview with a website for lesbian, transgendered and bisexual women, Ms. Smith finally acknowledged the obvious: The fire-and-brimstone homophobia of former Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger, who called public schools “godless” for preaching tolerance and claimed that gay people would “suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering,” made him an unfit candidate in the riding of Edmonton-South West in this past spring’s Alberta election campaign.
In fact, the controversy around Mr. Hunsperger did damage to Wildrose far beyond the boundaries of one constituency. It helped show that the party, which seemed to be on its way to victory, was not ready for prime time.
Wildrose was hardly the first new party to inadequately vet its candidates, and to an extent such embarrassments can be chalked up to growing pains. Still, Ms. Smith’s poor judgment made the situation worse than it needed to be.
In the heat of the campaign, she refused to condemn Mr. Hunsperger’s comments. Despite being socially liberal herself, she seemingly believed enough of her party’s supporters were sympathetic to Mr. Hunsperger’s views that it would be damaging to distance herself too much.
Instead, that controversy, and a similar one in which she declined to speak out against a candidate who said he had an advantage because he was Caucasian, contributed to Wildrose capturing only 17 of Alberta’s 78 seats – and offered a lesson about the perils of pandering.
Thankfully, Ms. Smith has evidently learned it. It’s a small step toward making her party a more viable option, even if it’s a belated one.
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