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Alberta Progressive Conservative leadership hopeful Ric McIverFacebook

Update Sept. 5: In the dying days of the Alberta Tory leadership race the pro-life Wilberforce Project has endorsed candidate Ric McIver. Wilberforce's Rosenke told members she had come away from meetings with two of three candidates “with a good idea as to who would be the best leader with regard to pro-life issues. Candidate Ric McIver has given TWP a lot of reason to believe he will listen to us and to our concerns in the future.”

Being leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta sure isn’t what it used to be. Before Alison Redford, the party’s recently disgraced leader and therefore the province’s recently disgraced premier, no leader dared march in Calgary’s Gay Pride Parade. Now it is virtually de rigueur. All three candidates to succeed Redford attended this year’s event on Sunday and two actually marched.

On the other hand, the third, Ric McIver is said to have ruined his chances for the leadership before the race began by marching in the city’s Jesus Parade. That is why McIver, a Catholic, is rumoured to be sympathetic to pro-life policies, but unwilling to come out of the closet.

The front-runner, former federal Conservative cabinet minister Jim Prentice, is openly pro-abortion. The third contender, Thomas Lukaszuk, is Roman Catholic and a third degree Knight of Columbus, but his views on abortion are unknown.

When Lukaszuk was education minister in 2012 he pushed a bill that one of his own officials said would have made it illegal for private Christian schools and homeschooling parents to teach Christian sexual morality about homosexuality. The government backed down only after thousands rallied before the Legislature in Edmonton.

The first round of voting in the leadership race is slated for Friday and Saturday. If no candidate takes a majority of the vote, then the two top candidates will face off in a vote on September 20.

Though none of the candidates have declared themselves pro-life, one of the province’s leading pro-life groups may have an inside track. The Wilberforce Project is said to have been quietly encouraging supporters to sign up as Tory members and vote this weekend for one of three.

Which one? As late as August 5, Wilberforce (which used to be Alberta Pro-Life) put out a letter to its members stating: “At this point in time, none of the three leadership candidates (Thomas Lukaszuk, Jim Prentice, and Ric McIver) has officially made any statement of support to pro-life policies. If any do, however, we will update you immediately.” Meanwhile the group urged its members to join the Tories and get ready to support an as-yet unnamed pro-life candidate.

But it looks like the race will go right down to the wire without his name emerging publicly in documentation from either Wilberforce or Campaign Life Coalition of Alberta. CLC Alberta’s president, Julius Yankowsky, told LifeSiteNews the reason was simple: “Being pro-life is dead in the water, politically.” Yankowsky, a former member of Alberta’s legislature, recalls pushing the issue himself more than a decade ago and being told by fellow MLA Lukaszuk that, “This is a no-win, so cool it.”

“Lukaszuk may be pro-life as an individual, but I don’t see him going anywhere with it as premier,” Yankowsky said.

Social issues of any kind have been conspicuously absent from all three candidates’ platforms, Wilberforce Executive Director Rosey Rosenke told LifeSiteNews. Instead the preoccupation has been with Redford’s out-of-control personal spending habits that led to her resignation, and the government’s huge and mounting deficit. “The pro-life movement has been ignored by the media as usual, which is a good thing in this case, because we can go ahead and support someone without attracting attention,” said Rosenke.

The likeliest and, indeed, the rumoured, recipient of Wilberforce’s favour is Ric McIver, a Calgary alderman turned Tory cabinet minister. McIver knows only too well how the wrong support can hurt. He and a controversial Calgary street preacher, Art Pawlowski, formed a mutual admiration society during McIver’s stint at alderman. Pawlowski not only organizes Calgary’s version of the March for Jesus, but McIver has marched in it for four years running. This last time, however, his presence led to a close examination of Pawlowski’s views on the sinfulness of homosexual behavior. Once these were exposed by furious news media coverage, McIver distanced himself from Pawlowksi’s views insufficiently for local journalists.

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“I deplore discrimination against all groups and individuals without exception,” he said. “If chosen premier, I do and will continue to defend equality rights for all Albertans as defined in the Charter, including sexual orientation.”

Pawlowski has been repeatedly arrested for public preaching on city property but has always prevailed in the courts. In December 2009, a provincial court judge said the City of Calgary’s actions were “excessive and, to any reasonable observer, an abuse of power.”

Wilberforce’s Rosenke won’t admit her group is supporting McIver, but she does admit that Prentice is the front-runner. Still, Alberta Tories have turned away from first-ballot leaders and put also-rans into the premiership in the past: Alison Redford is the most recent example.

Whoever is picked in the two-day, phone-in vote, says Campaign Life Coalition’s Yankowski, “may not be able to save the Tories,” so badly have they been damaged by Redford’s profligate spending.

That leaves the Wildrose Party, which is decidedly more conservative than the Progressive Conservatives, but which has also decided to stay away from explicit references to moral issues such as homosexuality and abortion. The party has blamed their surprise loss in the 2012 provincial election on remarks the media dredged up from a candidate’s website condemning homosexual acts.

But Rosenke believes moderate abortion legislation could have traction in the legislature. “We think there could be a lot of support for parental consent being required for minors to get abortion. We require it for tanning studios and tattoos after all,” she said.