Controversial Craig Chandler stirs election emotions
Conservative activist is helping out in Calgary-McCall
It's rare for someone to cause controversy just for showing up.
A man who was prevented from running for the Progressive Conservatives in 2007, and who was branded as too extreme for the Wildrose in 2012, has resurfaced in Alberta's election campaign after a press release announcing his return to the PC fold in January went largely unnoticed.
Craig Chandler, the executive director of The Progressive Group for Independent Business, popped up on social media Friday night, first announcing a "ladies-only" get together with Premier Jim Prentice, and later sitting in for Calgary-McCall PC candidate Jagdeep Sahota at a debate.
"Well, I help out where help's needed, because I've been involved in campaigns, but my focus is my business where you just called me," said Chandler from the PGIB office on his role in the campaign. He stresses he only filled in for the final two questions of Friday's debate.
Some on Twitter identified Chandler as Sahota's campaign manager, but Mike Storeshaw, a spokesperson for the PC campaign, says Chandler is simply a volunteer. When asked if it was unusual for a volunteer to sit in for a candidate, Storeshaw replied. "I don't know."
Concern over past statements
His appearance prompted local blogger, Metro columnist and gay-rights activist Michael Morrison to write a letter to both Sahota and the Prentice campaign team, and later to his local PC candidate Mark Hlady. In the letter, Morrison accuses Chandler of homophobia and questions whether his views reflects that of the PC party.
"As a gay Albertan, I'm very concerned that you are working with someone who was once removed from the PC party because of his homophobic views," Morrison wrote in the letter to Hlady, which he posted on Twitter. "I'm wondering if you are aware of those remarks and why you would choose to work with someone with anti-gay views."
A copy of the letter I just emailed to <a href="https://twitter.com/JimPrentice">@JimPrentice</a> and the PC candidate in my riding <a href="https://twitter.com/markhladypc">@markhladypc</a>. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ABPride?src=hash">#ABPride</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/ABvote?src=hash">#ABvote</a> <a href="http://t.co/tfcDpmQeFf">pic.twitter.com/tfcDpmQeFf</a>—@mikesbloggity
Chandler says he harbours no homophobic views and instead said "the reason that I was actually removed [as a PC candidate in 2007] was I told 60 per cent of Albertans to leave," referencing comments he made telling immigrants to vote for conservative candidates or move from the province.
He said critics are conflating comments he has made with times he has quoted others who were opposed to homosexuality.
"I'd like to know where I can actually have quotes around my comments and they weren't (said by) others. No one can find anything — in any way, shape or form — that I actually said, ever, that's anti-gay," said Chandler.
In 2007, Chandler was forced to apologize as part of a Canadian Human Rights Commission settlement for material that was posted on websites he controlled and for comments he made on his radio show. Among the statements listed in the complaint were suggestions that being gay is the result of a "genetic weakness" and that "God sees murder as equal to homosexuality…."
In 2012, Chandler reacted to the controversy surrounding former Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger's now-infamous "Lake of Fire" blog post in an article published in Calgary Beacon News.
"Although the wording Mr. Hunsperger chose could have been more Christ-like what he has said is biblically accurate. The delivery just made me rather uncomfortable," said Chandler.
"We are all sinners and have fallen short, but, for the grace of God are we saved. The lifestyle that is referred to is very clear in the Bible as not an acceptable one, just as a heterosexual lifestyle of screwing around on your wife (is not acceptable).
"I have gay friends and they know I disagree with their lifestyle and they know that I do feel it is a sin, but, my language is much more gentle and I still embrace them as friends."
Later in the same article, he added: "As for the views of homosexuality being a sin, that is what the Bible says and the word of God and a religious document such as that can't be changed just because people are offended. It seems Christophobia is alive and well."
Storeshaw says Chandler's views do not reflect those of the PC party.
"An individual's personal views are not always going to be reflective of those of the party, and certainly those things expressed that you're referring to are not wouldn't be reflective of the PC party," he said.
'Too much history'
According to Chandler, he supports gay-straight alliances in publicly-funded schools, but doesn't think private religious schools should be forced to accept them. When it comes to gay marriage, he says his only point when the issue was being fiercely debated, was "if they want to go get married in their churches, fine, but our churches ought to be allowed to say no if we want to."
Morrison, who was vocal in his opposition to the government's original Bill 10, which would limit gay-straight alliances in Alberta schools, says he finds it strange that someone as polarizing as Chandler would be involved in an election.
"There's too much history right now, I think, with him being involved, and especially with so many Albertans still concerned about Bill 10 and how that all went," he said.