Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith had another candidate controversy on her hands Tuesday when a retired Calgary pastor running for her party suggested he had an advantage over other candidates because he’s white.
Ron Leech, 65, running in the ethnically diverse riding of Calgary-Greenway, made the comments on a radio show, CTV reported.
Wildrose campaign staff said he was explicitly asked whether it was a disadvantage to be white.
“I think, as a Caucasian, I have an advantage. When different community leaders such as a Sikh leader or a Muslim leader speaks they really speak to their own people in many ways. As a Caucasian, I believe that I can speak to all the community,” he said, according to CTV.
Mr. Leech confirmed he made the remarks but apologized, saying they were taken out of context. What he meant to say, he suggested, was that being white wasn’t a drawback in such a diverse riding.
“I apologize if something was said in the spur of the moment that may have misrepresented the community or myself. What I intended to say was, first of all, it’s not a disadvantage for me to run in Calgary-Greenway as a Caucasian,” Mr. Leech said, later adding: “I love all of the people, all the different cultural groups, and all the different faith groups, religious groups that are there. … I have a great love for all the nations.”
Ms. Smith was asked about the comment early Tuesday.
“I’m not concerned about them. I think every candidate puts forward the best argument about why they should be the best candidate to represent the community,” she said.
Mr. Leech spoke later at a Wildrose rally, gathering party supporters of non-white ethnic backgrounds in an apparent attempt to hit home his point.
Mr. Leech is one of a handful of the party’s 87 candidates to draw attention, forcing Ms. Smith’s party to reiterate they won’t legislate on social issues. His comments surfaced days after a blog from another pastor and Wildrose candidate, Allan Hunsperger, suggested gays would end up in the “eternal lake of fire, hell.”
Mr. Hunsperger spoke briefly to the press, saying the blog were his personal views, before ducking out a back door at a rally Monday; Mr. Leech spoke to the press on Tuesday, answering several questions and apologizing a number of times times. (He also noted he wouldn’t have written what Mr. Hunsperger wrote, but he did say in a 2004 Calgary Herald op-ed article that “to affirm homosexuality is to ... insult the nature and being of God.”)
Ms. Smith hasn’t condemned any such comments, saying they’re personal views and not that of the party – saying censoring them would overstep her role.
“We will not legislate on contentious social issues, our candidates know that,” she said. “How they serve to worship, or how they serve to conduct themselves in their private religious practice is, frankly, none of my business as a political leader.”
Mr. Leech ran as an independent in 2008 in another riding, losing to the PC candidate. He calls himself Dr. Leech, and his degree is from the Christian Life School of Theology, a small, unaccredited university in Georgia. He stands by the degree.
“I’ve been known as Dr. Leech for many, many years in the community. They know me. I’ve pastored that church. I worked very hard to earn that degree. It’s been a very long process for many years. I’ve been a life-long learner, and that was the completing of the situation,” he said.
Ms. Smith refers to him as “Dr. Leech” in speeches, but said she didn’t know where his degree was from.
“I tend to defer in honorifics to how people refer to themselves. I think that’s sort of the respectful thing to do. He’s been introduced to me as Dr. Leech, so that’s how I refer to him,” Ms. Smith said.
PC Leader Alison Redford condemned both the statements by Mr. Hunsperger and Mr. Leech.
“I think those are inappropriate comments. I know they don’t reflect my views. I don’t believe they reflect the views of our party, and I don’t believe they are current with what Albertans are thinking these days either,” Ms. Redford told reporters in Calgary.
With Wildrose leading in the polls, attention has turned to their candidates. Ms. Smith has said the same attention should be focused on other parties’ candidates as well. Some current and former PC candidates have, for instance, been outspoken opponents of gay marriage.
The social issues altogether prompted the Liberals to launch a website, www.toryorwildrose.ca, quizzing people on which party’s supporters were behind a series of controversial statements. Both Mr. Leech and Mr. Hunsperger are included on the site.
Albertans go to the polls April 23.
With files from Carrie Tait