UCP Leader Jason Kenney stands by candidate despite past homophobic remarks

United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney is standing by his Drayton Valley-Devon candidate Mark Smith because he has never made homophobic remarks while he was an elected MLA.

Mark Smith hasn't expressed similar views in Kenney's time as leader, Kenney says

UCP Leader Jason Kenney is not asking Drayton Valley-Devon candidate Mark Smith to step down over homophobic remarks from 2013. (Craig Ryan/CBC )

United Conservative Leader Jason Kenney is standing by Drayton Valley-Devon candidate Mark Smith because, he says, Smith has never made homophobic remarks as an elected MLA.

Kenney said members of the LGBTQ community were right to be offended.

"Mr. Smith has apologized for those remarks. He issued a statement today that he does so unequivocally," he said at a news conference Wednesday near Edmonton. "I hope that Mark will reach out to members of the LGBTQ community to get into a dialogue.

"My impression of having observed Mark in the 16 months that I have been leader of the party is that he has not expressed similar sentiments at all toward people neither in the legislature nor privately in our discussions."

On Tuesday, audio surfaced of Smith suggesting that "homosexual love" isn't good love and compared it to pedophilia.

The remarks were made during a sermon Smith delivered to the Calvary Baptist Church in Drayton Valley in November 2013. Smith was first elected to the legislature in May 2015 and served as the UCP's education critic.

Kenney has not asked Smith to step down. Candidate nominations closed on Friday and taking Smith off the ballot would leave the UCP without a candidate in the conservative riding.

Kenney deflected a reporter's question about whether this was the reason why Smith was being allowed to run.

Kenney said a future United Conservative Party government would be inclusive and respectful of all Albertans' rights, regardless of how they pray, who they love or what their cultural backgrounds are. 

Kenney fails test, Notley says

NDP Leader Rachel Notley criticized Kenney for not showing leadership on the issue.

"I think the test was put to him yesterday, and he failed it," she said Wednesday.

"Mr. Kenney is hoping that we will turn a blind eye," she said. "But that's not who we are. We cannot let fear and division win. We are better than that."

Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel said Kenney's refusal to drop Smith shows that the UCP leader is unfit to govern.

"Once again, we see that deep-seated intolerance lies under the hood of the UCP,"  Mandel said in a statement. 

"By endorsing and standing behind Mark Smith as a UCP candidate, Jason Kenney has demonstrated he is unfit to govern and doesn't understand Alberta in 2019."

Smith issued a statement apologizing "if anyone was offended or hurt." He said he was merely remarking on media commentary about the issue and regrets "how my commentary was framed at the time."

On Wednesday, Smith went on Facebook to add to his apology.

"I believe that people have the right to choose to be in the relationship that they desire," he wrote. "My comments from 2013 did not reflect that belief, and I unequivocally apologize for this. Period."

Kenney was questioned by reporters at a news conference where he promised to create the Alberta Aboriginal Opportunities Corporation to help Indigenous groups own resource projects by accessing technical advice and capital funding.