As It Happens

Radio host Charles Adler on his fiery interview with Alberta UCP Leader Jason Kenney

Conservative radio host Charles Adler says he felt morally obliged to hold his friend Jason Kenney's "feet to the fire" during an interview on his Global News Radio program this week. 

Global broadcaster challenged Kenney on decision to stand by candidate who performed homophobic sermon

United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney, left, recently appeared in a combative radio interview with Global News Radio host Charles Adler, right. (Craig Ryan/CBC, Submitted by Charles Adler)

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Conservative radio host Charles Adler says he felt morally obliged to hold his friend Jason Kenney's "feet to the fire" during an interview on his Global News Radio program this week. 

Kenney, the United Conservative Party leader and Alberta election front-runner, used his appearance on Charles Adler Tonight to defend his decision to stand by a candidate who once compared homosexuality to pedophilia.

In the interview Adler asks Kenney why "knuckle-draggers" are attracted to his party, and Kenney accuses Adler of "throwing around insults."

Adler spoke to As It Happens host Carol Off about the combative interview. Here is part of their conversation.

What touched you in such a way that compelled you to approach Jason Kenney in this interview in the way that you did?

When Mark Smith, the controversial MLA, the tape emerged of the sermon from six years ago in which he likened gay people to pedophiles, questioned whether gay love was real, talked about women who choose to have abortions having a love of killing babies, I was asked by friends of mine who were conservative what I thought Jason Kenney would do about this.

And I was 100 per cent wrong in my prediction.

I predicted that he would immediately push the button on this particular candidate and do what he promised me about a year ago that he would do if he had a so-called "bozo eruption" similar to the "lake of fire" incident a number of years ago, which ended up destroying [former Wildrose Party leader] Danielle Smith's opportunity to become premier of Alberta.

That was a candidate who actually said that homosexuals would burn in "an eternal lake of fire" and that sort of plummeted her fortunes and she went from the top to the bottom in that. Jason Kenney, he'd promised you that he would deal with this quickly — and what happened? He didn't.

No, and promised me a year ago that he would simply, if it was passed the date where you can't just pull a candidacy, he would simply tell the people in the riding: Look, you can vote for this person, but I will never seat them in my caucus.

I thought that this would be a very, very easy play for Mr. Kenney that would have, what I would think of as moral authority behind it.

And when he chose not to do that, went the other way and ... started praising him on my show ... I couldn't believe that this was the person I've known for 20 years.

And that's why I knocked on the desk as if knocking on his head, and said: "But what did you do with my friend Jason?"

MLA Mark Smith has come under fire for a sermon six years ago in which he compares homosexuality to pedophilia. (Legislative Assembly )

Mr. Kenney said to you: "Charles, I guess you and I have a different difference of view on this. I think that people should not be condemned for life because they've said something that's offensive at some point in the past." Isn't that fair?

[Laughs] Well, with all due respect, in my headset, when I was listening to him, it felt as bogus as it could be.

First of all, Mark Smith did one of those apologies that are not really apologies. He said he apologized "if" people were offended by that. He never discussed why that content offends him.

If you're going to look at a person's character, you judge it from the point of view of what they say when they're with people who they're comfortable with. And he was in his church. He was with his flock. They were very comfortable with that kind of rhetoric.

That, to me, says much more about a person's character than what he says in, you know, mixed company, you know, far away from the flock.

And this isn't just an isolated case. ... Who are the "knuckle-draggers" you're talking about?"

I'm talking about the extremists. I'm talking about the Islamophobes. I'm talking about the white nationalists or white supremacists. I'm talking about misogynists. The usual suspects of people who we choose not to associate with.

And those folks — it's a small percentage of Albertans, a small percentage of Canadians — those folks seem to be very comfortable with the UCP.

I don't think it's doing Alberta any favours. I don't think it's doing the UCP any favours.

Is Jason Kenney the one you knew before? Or is this Jason Kenney someone who seems to be comfortable with these "knuckle-draggers," as you call them?

I wanted to know whether this was just a tactical thing, or whether this was now the real Jason Kenney. I just never received a good answer.

I can't honestly tonight tell you that I really know who Jason Kenney is. It's a mystery to me and it troubles me.

What kind of reaction are you getting from other conservatives since you did this interview?

From people that we would think of as as the hardcore base — and I'm not talking about extremists necessarily at all, just people who are fans who want very much for that party to win — some of them, as you can imagine, are very angry with me and they're all over social media.

But I am completely blown away by the amount of what I'll call mainstream conservatives — name-brand conservatives, current leaders, former leaders, elders in the conservative movement in Canada and Alberta and elsewhere — who have contacted me ... thanking me for holding Jason Kenney's feet to the fire.

They're very concerned about whether it's the federal party or the provincial party becoming too much of a safe space for extremists, and they feel that more of these discussions are necessary.

I have interviewed Jason Kenney many times and I've never shaken him. And I've tried everything to perhaps hold his feet to the fire, and I've never heard him respond the way he did to you in that interview. Do you think you blindsided him? 

Let me say something that Jason Kenney did a number of years ago, which was moving to me and it always will be.

Raoul Wallenberg was the Swedish Ambassador to Budapest. It's because of Raoul Wallenberg that my mother survived [the Holocaust]. She was a nine-year-old. She was rescued by Wallenberg, who gave her a Swedish passport and she also managed to courier a number of Swedish passports to others.

And Jason Kenney made sure that Raoul Wallenberg got an honorary Canadian citizenship.

The fact is that my paternal grandparents, cousins, uncles, aunts, I don't know the exact number, but a huge amount of my family, perished in the Holocaust, most of them at Auschwitz.

Jason Kenney knows that I feel a special affection for the LGBT community because so many of them shared the same chimney as my grandparents and other ancestors.

So when the LGBT community is marginalized and dehumanized — whether it's in Iran or Russia or Brunei, most recently — I grieve.

If any of it is happening here — any marginalization, dehumanization of the LGBT people happen here in Canada — in my opinion, that is Canada's shame.

And any politician, any person who calls themselves a public servant who enables that, shame on them.

What do you think about your tone and your questions that affected him so much?

He knew I was right. He knew that I was searching for his moral compass. He was going to stay with politics 101 — never apologize, never give the opponents a piece of tape saying "I'm sorry."

He wouldn't even apologize for what he did in San Francisco ... when he participated in an initiative ... to deprive dying AIDS patients of being able to see their partners.

He participated in that. That's wicked. That's evil. And after all these years, I was giving him an opportunity to say "I'm sorry" and to tell us why he's sorry. And he just gave me the routine. That was then, this is now.

That's not good enough.

Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.