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Outspoken political commentator Ezra Levant arrives at the Law Society of Alberta in Calgary, Alta., on March 2, 2016.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The two most high-profile candidates for the leadership of Alberta's new United Conservative Party are distancing themselves from Rebel Media.

Former Wildrose Opposition leader Brian Jean says he hasn't had anything to do with the conservative online publication in seven months and won't be involved with it in the future unless there is a significant change in editorial direction.

Former federal cabinet minister Jason Kenney says he hasn't done a Rebel interview in more than a year and he publicly condemns the website's "alt-right editorial direction of recent months."

The two statements came after Alberta NDP cabinet minister Brian Mason called on both candidates to make their feelings on the Rebel clear.

Earlier in the week, rival leadership candidate Doug Schweitzer also called on Mr. Jean and Mr. Kenney to disavow the outlet.

The Rebel's coverage of last weekend's deadly protests in Virginia has been criticized by some as sympathetic to the white nationalists who organized the rally.

One of the site's co-founders and two contributors quit after the reports aired.

Following the rally, Ezra Levant, the outlet's owner, issued a memo to his staff on their coverage of the so-called "alt-right," a moniker attached to the white nationalist movement in the United States and elsewhere.

In it, Mr. Levant sought to distance his organization from the movement by saying that while he had initially viewed it as "unashamed right-wingedness with a sense of humour," the term now means "racism, anti-Semitism and tolerance of neo-Nazism."

Mr. Levant said the Rebel will still cover the alt-right, but with the same approach it takes to other groups on the left side of the spectrum.

"It is important, at this point, for everyone to be very clear where they stand," Mr. Mason said at the legislature on Thursday.

"Our government stands for inclusion. It stands for non-violence. It stands for rational public discourse."

Mr. Kenney used Twitter to call Mr. Mason's attack ridiculous.

"Sad to see a decent guy like Brian Mason stooping to NDP McCarthyite tactics," he tweeted in a reference to former U.S. senator Joe McCarthy's pursuit of suspected communists on flimsy grounds in the 1950s.

"I've been repeatedly attacked by the Rebel for criticizing them; refused to attend their events; haven't done an interview with them for over a year; have publicly condemned their alt-right editorial direction of recent months."

Mr. Jean said in a statement he has consistently denounced hate and racism in all its forms.

"I believe strongly in the sanctity of free speech and a free press, and do not believe it is the role of elected officials to dictate who is, and is not media," he said.

"However, recent events have me concerned with the commentary and editorial direction coming from Rebel Media. I have not appeared on the Rebel in seven months and unless their direction changes in a significant way, I will not in the future."

Alberta’s Progressive Conservative and Wildrose parties have approved a merger to form the United Conservative Party. PC Leader Jason Kenney says the new party needs to forget old divisions and learn from past mistakes.

The Canadian Press

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