CALGARY - The Wildrose party went into damage-control mode Sunday after one of its candidates' anti-gay rants raised the ire of many voters and prompted Premier Alison Redford to warn Albertans about who they want to run their province.
The controversy stems from a blog written by Allan Hunsperger, a pastor who's running as a Wildrose candidate in Edmonton South, in which he warned against accepting gays and lesbians for who they are.
In his comments, written in June, 2011, Hunsperger criticized the Edmonton Public School Division's views of accepting students for who they are and used Lady Gaga's album, "Born this Way" as part of his analogy.
"You see, you can live the way you were born, and if you die the way you were born then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering."
With only one week left before the election, Redford wasted no time joining in the condemnation of the comments that quickly spread to social media.
"The fact that there are people who think that's a legitimate perspective just absolutely blows my mind," Redford told reporters at a Calgary campaign stop.
"I think they're shocking and I think it goes back to Albertans are about to decide who is going to govern their province. They are going to have to decide who their premier is. They're going to have to decide who the cabinet is," she added.
"If we have people like this making these sorts of comments in Alberta I think it's absolutely wrong and of course I disagree with it."
Just hours after Redford's comments, the controversial posting was taken down. In a short message posted on the same website, Hunsperger defended his comments.
"The views I expressed in this blog posting are my own personal religious views and were given in the capacity as a church pastor," he wrote.
"I fully support equality for all people, and condemn any intolerance based on sexual orientation or any other personal characteristic."
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said she was aware of Hunsperger's religious views and made it clear that they won't have any effect on her party's policy if it forms government.
"Our party is not going to legislate on contentious social issues," Smith said on Sunday.
"I also said in the debate that we recognize that people have a great diversity of viewpoints ... it's not unique to our party."
On Saturday she told reporters that none of her candidates had experienced a "bozo eruption." She said they were disciplined and would do a good job if elected.
"When a person is making personal statements in their capacity as a pastor, which he was, I don't think anybody should be surprised that they're expressing certain viewpoints," she said.
She said Hunsperger understands and accepts the party's policy on contentious social issues.
Many people took to Twitter to express their views on the controversy.
"I'm concerned that a party with a transparency pledge, seems to have so much to hide" read one tweet.
Another one suggested the candidate's Twitter profile should read "Wildrose candidate dedicated to representing Albertans who I approve of."
Redford has speculated that there are other extreme views within Smith's party. She is critical of a Wildrose demand of a $1,000 good conduct bond that isn't returned to failed nominees until after the election campaign is over. Smith said it was meant to prevent unhappy former nominees from "sabotaging" the campaign.
"I think that is undemocratic. I think that if you have a political party and you have people who run for nominations that those people are still members of the party, are still entitled to have points of view," she said.
"I don't know what they would or wouldn't say but the fact as a party that they are worried about that I find ridiculous."
Here's a look back at some of the most memorable moments from the campaign.
A blog post saying that gays were destined to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/15/wildrose-anti-gay-blog-alberta_n_1427008.html" target="_hplink">burn in a "lake of fire" for eternity was brought to light on April 16.</a> Allan Hunsperger, a pastor who's running as a Wildrose candidate in Edmonton South, also referenced Lady Gaga's 'Born This Way': "You see, you can live the way you were born, and if you die the way you were born then you will suffer the rest of eternity in the lake of fire, hell, a place of eternal suffering." Wildrose leader Danielle Smith said she was aware of Hunsperger's religious views.
Wildrose leader Danielle Smith found herself <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/20/danielle-smith-booed-climate-change-alberta-election-debate_n_1439858.html" target="_hplink">on the receiving end of booing and mockery at a debate on April 19 for questioning climate change .</a> "There is still a debate in the scientific community," said Smith before being drowned out by a chorus of boos and catcalls. PC leader Alison Redford said Smith leading the province would be an embarrassment.
Wildrose candidate Ron Leech <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/17/ron-leech-wildrose-candidate_n_1432653.html" target="_hplink">made some controversial remarks about race on a South Asian radio show.</a> "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," said Leech. He apologized for his remarks on April 24, saying that his comments did not come out the way he intended.
During the April 12 debate, the candidates for the Wildrose, Liberal and NDP took the opportunity to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/12/alberta-election-debate_n_1419850.html" target="_hplink">gang up on Progressive Conservative leader Alison Redford</a>. It was an unsurprising tactic given that the Tories have held power in Alberta for 11 consecutive majority governments, although polls reveal the Wildrose may have a fighting chance.
When the Wildrose first rolled out their campaign bus, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/23/alberta-wildrose-campaign_n_1375998.html" target="_hplink">there was something distinctly odd about the wheel placement </a>in relation to Smith's image. Late night host Jay Leno even poked fun at the busty bus before a new, less suggestive design rolled out.
An April 10 poll showed that Danielle Smith's Wildrose party was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/11/alberta-election-2012-poll_n_1417267.html" target="_hplink">neck and neck with the Progressive Conservatives</a>. The Leger Marketing poll showed the Wildrose has the support of 36 per cent of Albertans, compared to 34 per cent for the governing Tories.
This Hour Has 22 Minutes gave their own take on the Alberta election by poking fun at the similarities between Alison Redford and Danielle Smith. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/03/alberta-election-2012-22-minutes_n_1400747.html" target="_hplink">CLICK TO WATCH</a>
Progressive Conservative staffer<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/31/pc-staffer-resigns-danielle-smith-wildrose-tweet_n_1393807.html" target="_hplink"> Amanda Wilkie "resigned" on March 31 after tweeting</a> "If @ElectDanielle likes young and growing families so much, why doesn't she have children of her own? #wrp family pack = insincere." Backlash came swiftly from the PC, the Wildrose and Twitter users alike. Alison Redford herself issues an apology, but not before Smith revealed that she didn't have children due to fertility issues.
In a moment of levity, but mostly embarrassment for Danielle Smith, the Wildrose leader's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/03/31/danielle-smith-dogs-wildrose-alberta_n_1394069.html" target="_hplink">dogs got frisky during a photo op in Calgary</a>.
In a province where conservative values dominate politics, Brian Mason's NDP and Raj Sherman's Liberals are left to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/06/alberta-election-liberals-ndp-edmonton_n_1408884.html" target="_hplink">duke it out in left-leaning pockets such as Edmonton</a>.
On April 10, for the second time, Wildrose leader Danielle Smith was called out for her<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/10/danielle-smith-pro-choice-gay-marriage_n_1416319.html" target="_hplink"> supposed opposing stance on abortion and gay marriage</a>. Smith however snuffed out the controversy: "When our members elected me they knew they were electing a candidate that was pro-choice and pro-gay marriage." The issues came up earlier in the election when <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/07/alberta-election-abortion-social-issues_n_1409963.html" target="_hplink">Smith was less forthcoming</a> on the subjects.
Alberta's education minister Thomas Lukaszuk claimed he was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/04/07/thomas-lukaszuk-assault_n_1410308.html" target="_hplink">assaulted while canvassing in an Edmonton neighbourhood</a>. He said he knocked on the door of a residence with a Wildrose support sign and, once recognized, was punched by the resident within. The resident, Al Michalchuk, says he merely nudged Lukaszuk when he refused to leave.