Raj Sherman under fire for heated Twitter remarks as party leaders call for campaign civility

Alberta Liberal candidate describes Wildrose candidates as 'homophobic,' PCs as 'corrupt/incompetent/bullying'

Wildrose candidates are "homophobic, climate change deniers" and "bigots" while the PCs are "corrupt/incompetent/bullying" and "senior neglecting," Liberal Leader Raj Sherman shot out to the Twitterverse this week.

His comments, re-tweeted by dozens of supporters but decried by others as feckless and overly negative, are the latest in an increasingly rough-and-tumble campaign that has other party leaders calling for a return to civility.

"It's really just silly and it's beneath Raj to do something like that," Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith said Wednesday.

"We need to ratchet down some of the rhetoric and focus on what this campaign is supposed to be about. It's supposed to be a robust discussion about ideas and a big-picture discussion about where our province is headed."

No one from the Progressive Conservatives was available to comment on Sherman's tweet. But the Liberal leader did not back down from his 140-character assessments of both the Wildrose and PC parties, who he also said are hell-bent on privatizing education and health care.

"I could have written those tweets more eloquently," he acknowledged in an interview. But "do you think Raj Sherman has ever been one to mince words?"

"I challenge anyone to say what I said wasn't true."

Sherman's tweet comes the same week Edmonton Wildrose candidate Allan Hunsperger made headlines when a blog he wrote last year warned homosexuals they will suffer for eternity in a "lake of fire."

Calgary Wildrose candidate Ron Leech was in the spotlight for stating during a weekend radio interview he thinks he has an electoral advantage because he is "Caucasian" (he later apologized, saying the comment didn't reflect his true feelings on the matter).

Sherman has also criticized Smith for saying the science on climate change has yet to be settled, and has attacked the Tory government for its decision not to hold a full inquiry into physician intimidation.

His tweet is not unusual in the lawless world of Twitter, it's just not language usually heard from a party leader.

But with his party polling between nine per cent and 12 per cent in Calgary and Edmonton - traditionally strong centres of support - Rebecca Sullivan, a professor of cultural studies at the University of Calgary, said Sherman's comments are a "Hail Mary" pass.

"It's very unusual for the political leader to get their hands dirty," she said. "They usually have operatives do that for them."

Sullivan said as use of Twitter and other quick-moving social media in-creases, so will concerns about civility in political discourse. But she added Sherman's words will speak to some Alberta voters.

"This wasn't a 3 a.m. tweet that he then has to turn around and apologize for. It's a Hail Mary pass, and it's one that's grounded in a series of headlines," she said. "He may actually get some votes out of it."

Sherman's tweet follows Mayor Naheed Nenshi saying on Tuesday he was disappointed by Leech's comments. On Wednesday, Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel also called on the Wildrose leader to "clearly refute" comments by her party's candidates about race and homosexuality.

"It's not representative of Alberta or Albertans," Mandel said.

In Calgary on Wednesday, Calgary Chamber of Commerce CEO Adam Legge said it's important the city be seen "as an open, welcoming com-munity."

"Anytime you exhibit or have a portrayal of yourself as being less tolerant, you have a potential to jeopardize economic competitiveness," Legge added. "We need to do everything we can to position Alberta in a positive light."

Calgary Herald, Thurs Apr 19 2012
Byline: Kelly Cryderman

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