The two front-runners vying to lead Alberta's new United Conservative Party were challenged Thursday to publicly renounce Rebel Media and distance themselves from the far-right organization, which has come under increasing scrutiny since violent protests broke out in the U.S. last weekend.

Alberta government House leader Brian Mason called a news conference at the legislature to roundly denounce The Rebel, and took the opportunity to single out conservatives who refuse to do the same.

The NDP cabinet minister accused The Rebel, a website founded by conservative activist Ezra Levant, of "applauding the deaths of refugees" and publishing articles such as "10 reasons to hate Jews."

"People are being held accountable for their association with racist and violent groups," Mason said. "Here in Canada and Alberta, Rebel Media has been advocating these kind of views for quite a while now.

"It's pretty clear where Rebel Media stands. And it's pretty clear that [UPC leadership contenders] Brian Jean and Jason Kenny are standing with them."

Mason harshly criticized Kenney and Jean, as well as members of their caucus, for past associations with The Rebel.

"There is a mutual support there for Rebel Media and the UCP," Mason said. "Rebel Media, of course, is drumming up support for the united right and memberships in the UCP. And both leaders, candidates, have embraced Ezra Levant and his ilk. I think it's disgusting.

"I think Albertans deserve better. We need leaders that clearly know the difference between right and wrong.

"Racism and white supremacy is wrong."

In a strongly worded statement issued after Mason's news conference, Jean that said throughout his political career he has consistently denounced hatred, bigotry and racism in all forms.

"There is no place for this in public discourse, and I will continue to reject these sentiments whenever, and wherever, they may appear. 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," said Jean in the statement.

Brian Jean

Brian Jean issued a statement on Thursday saying he's denounced hatred, bigotry and racism in all forms throughout his political career. (Jason Kokot/CBC)

"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."

Kenney later issued his own statement as a five-part post on Twitter.

"Sad to see a decent guy like Brian Mason stooping to NDP McCarthyite tactics," Kenney wrote. "What 'associations' with Rebel Media? 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."

'Ridiculous attacks' from NDP

Then Kenney, a former Conservative MP, returned fire at the government he hopes to one day replace.

"We can expect many more ridiculous attacks like this from an NDP that is desperate to talk about anything but its disastrous economic record."

The Alberta government banned reporters representing The Rebel from the legislature press gallery in February 2016, and said at the time, "they are not journalists."

A week later, in an abrupt about-face, Premier Rachel Notley's government said it would not ban any media outlets from news conferences while a review of policies was underway.

Mason

Government house leader Brian Mason called on UCP leadership contenders to renounce The Rebel and explain their past associations with the far-right media outlet. (CBC)

The Rebel has become a focal point in the angry political war that erupted after last weekend's rally of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Va., which culminated in violence and an attack on counter-demonstrators that left one woman dead and several others injured.

A correspondent named Faith Goldy covered the rally for The Rebel. She was recording at the scene Saturday when a young woman was hit and killed by a car driven by an alleged Nazi sympathizer. 

Prior to the incident, Goldy spoke favourably about the neo-Nazis, white supremacists and Ku Klux Klan protesters at the riot.

The Rebel hit by high-profile defections

On Tuesday, one of The Rebel's co-founders quit over the outlet's coverage of the Charlottesville protests. Co-founder Brian Lilley, who was also a contributor to the site, said he was no longer comfortable working with an organization increasingly linked with the alt-right, the name most commonly used to represent the white nationalist movement.

National Post columnists Barbara Kay and John Robson also stepped away as contributors to The Rebel.

Levant published an all-staff memo on Tuesday denying that The Rebel is part of the alt-right movement. He said the outlet is considered a trusted source for conservatives, and that covering the alt-right is not the same as being alt-right.

"It's important that our viewers know that the alt-right is not actually conservative," Levant said in an email to The Canadian Press. "They are socialist; they are communalist; they reject individual autonomy and subordinate everything to genetics.

"And most importantly, they are a false flag, by which leftist media can demonize all conservatives and pretend that white supremacists are the leading problem in America, rather than a tiny fringe."

Newly minted federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said this week he won't grant further interviews to Rebel Media if the outlet's editorial direction remains unchanged.

 

With files from Michelle Bellefontaine