Why the Independence party turfed its leader weeks ahead of a provincial vote
Why the Independence party turfed its leader weeks ahead of a provincial vote

The Independence Party of Alberta says they split ways with former leader and controversial pastor Artur Pawlowski because of his “divisive” rhetoric — and that the party wants nothing to do with a phone recording of him and the premier. 

Pawlowski was elected to head up the fledgling party in September, but lasted just seven months before the party board voted to remove him earlier this week.

Party President Dan Duggan said the party knew Pawlowski was controversial, but gave the infamous freedom fighter a chance. Within months, he said Pawlowski’s tone turned negative, “divisive,” and “condescending.”

“I’m talking about (Pawlowski) accusing Alberta Health Services services of intentionally killing people or the Covid-19 vaccine being a weapon,” he told True North.

“I don’t believe that the Independence Party of Alberta was any more good fit for Pastor Art than Art was for the Independence Party of Alberta. He needs a platform to be able to share his passion and his message unfettered without any kind of structure that he himself has not created.” 

In January, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith announced that she would not be able to grant clemency to those charged for breaching pandemic restrictions as she had initially hoped. 

The announcement came weeks ahead of Pawlowski’s court hearing in Lethbridge, and he responded by calling Smith a “Kenney 2.0.”

“We are not going to hope with you, we need to change this government,” he said, demanding that Smith step down after she did not meet with pastors nor offer compensation.

Duggan said those remarks were not sanctioned by the Independence party. He also said he had many conversations with Pawlowski about changing his tone, but the former leader said he refused to be “stifled.” The board eventually decided to respond at a “punitive level.” 

“We respect him for the sacrifices he made for the strong message of freedom,” Duggan said, adding that the decision was not personal. 

“But the way he went about it in this party was not reflective of this party’s culture, of at least, its policies, of its bylaws, and of his mandate.”

The provincial board of directors passed a motion on Tuesday night in accordance with its bylaws to remove Pawlowski as leader. Pawlowski was informed the vote was happening only once the motion was passed. 

In a statement posted to Facebook, Pawlowski said the board voted to remove him on his 50th birthday with a “transgender secretary spearheading this attack.” He said his removal followed months of the board demanding he stop speaking about God, drag queen shows, and abortion. 

“A handful of directors decided to remove the leader that you elected and override your democratic voice. A censorial, top-down, controlling, corrupted, lying and tyrannical organization,” he wrote.

“In conclusion, I truly believe that this party has been infiltrated for a simple reason: we grew too big, too fast and we had become a real tangible threat to the corrupted establishment.”

The decision to turf Pawlowski has been met with mixed results from party members. Duggan said some have expressed displeasure, while others have thanked the board for having the courage to stand up. 

He said the board can’t make exceptions for requiring accountability even when the timing is unfortunate. The party now finds itself without a leader less than two months ahead of a provincial vote. 

“We’ll take a bit of a hit,” Duggan admitted. “But I guess the best analogy I can give you is after the tornado went through this tree, it will lose most of its leaves and it’s probably lost a lot of major limbs, but our roots are very, very strong.”

Pawlowski, meanwhile, says he will still be running as an independent candidate in the upcoming election. 

“I will always stand for what is right, I will defend freedom and I will forward the idea of individual independence wherever I go, even if I have to do it alone.”

Following his exit, a private phone conversation of him and Alberta Premier Danielle Smith discussing the pastor’s Coutts border blockade criminal case was released online. 

Duggan said the conversation was not made public during Pawlowski’s tenure or representation under the Independence party. 

“I’m just not interested in being involved in that. It doesn’t have anything to do with our party,” he said.

“If he chooses to respond with that vitriol and toxicity and mudslinging and slander and accusations, to be perfectly honest with you, I’m not interested in going down that path. That’s not what this party is.” 

Pawlowski faces charges of mischief for allegedly inciting protesters to continue blocking the international border crossing at Coutts, Alberta in early 2022. He is also charged under the Alberta Critical Infrastructure Defence Act with wilfully damaging or destroying essential infrastructure, and has a lengthy trail of charges stemming from breaching Covid-19 restrictions which includes jail time. 

In the recording, Pawlowski tells Smith he’s facing 10 years in prison and blames the premier for not following through on her earlier promises to grant clemency. 

The phone call has landed the premier in hot water, with outlets like CBC claiming it reveals that Smith has been in contact with Justice officials more than she’s previously admitted. The premier’s office has responded by hinting at a possible defamation suit against CBC. 

The court heard Pawlowski’s case in February and is expected to make a ruling in May.

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