“Honestly, I didn’t realize I had done any of that until I saw the video later. Then I almost vomit’

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UCP leadership candidate Leela Aheer became a big story the moment she got into a melee with a wild bull, valiantly trying to save a young man who was being trampled.

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Aheer says that he doesn’t remember anything after diving. “Honestly, I thought the child was going to die,” she said. “I jumped and the rest is a blur. He feels like it was all over in a thousandth of a second.”

It was Aheer who first pushed the bull. She carried the young man to safety at the railing after others ran inside.

“Honestly, I didn’t realize I had done any of that until I saw the video later. So I almost threw up.”

Aheer has been widely praised ever since. The story spread to India.

But she has also been accused of staging a political stunt to get attention. Some deranged people even claim that it was all fake.

Aheer is startled by the cruelty of those reactions, though not much should surprise public figures these days.

The episode is strangely emblematic of his leadership campaign. She faces furious forces fueled by anger and alienation. She may well get trampled on election day.

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But she stays in the ring, fighting for a softer, less ideological version of the UCP. Aheer believes that she is rescuing the party from her.

She is a proud progressive, a dirty word in large sectors of the UCP. Even progressives call her a renegade because she was the first in politics with Wildrose, a beacon of liberalism.

“I was chosen as Wildrose (MLA) to bring Progressivism to what at the time looked like the next Conservative Party,” she wrote on Twitter. “I have always been a proud progressive.”

For Aheer, that means pro-choice, pro-LGBTQ, pro-vaccines (but anti-coercion), and a host of other issues that she puts under the “pro-people” label.

“This is a conservative notion,” she says. “The conservative movement is supposed to be pro-people.”

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She feels that any candidate who does not support LGBTQ and women’s reproductive rights is “not worthy to lead this province.”

Aheer recently posted a startling tweet that seemed to accuse his own government of corruption.

“Corruption is an abuse of entrusted power for personal gain,” he said.

“Corruption erodes trust and weakens our democracy.

“The systematic desire of the establishment is self-preservation. This is a pattern of behavior that must end, and it ends with me.”

I asked Aheer if he is talking about the UCP.

“There is corruption when you have a $22 billion (health) budget and the money is lost and the public doesn’t know where the money went,” he said.

“When you don’t consult with doctors and throw them under the bus, there are deep seeds of corruption in that because you’re trying to undermine the system in ways that help you.”

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Aheer does not exclude the NDP, which he criticizes for the hacking of health care records by MLA Thomas Dang, who used Prime Minister Jason Kenney’s date of birth.

Responding to criticism that he did not speak like that in government, he said: “I am part of something that I want to change. It would be absolutely ridiculous of me to try to absolve myself of my involvement or the decisions I have made wrong.

“This is me as a potential leader taking responsibility for making changes that no one should have to ask of their government.”

In his Chestermere-Strathmore drive, there is still a bitter battle for control of the party’s local board.

On Thursday, the central party ordered an annual general meeting to be held with an election of the board on August 27.

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The current board was eliminated seven months ago, but later reinstated for technical reasons that had nothing to do with the alleged manipulation of the voter list.

The competing board, led by Nick Boots, insists that everything was in order. He says the incumbents have since refused to hold a new vote.

John Kittler, chairman of the board that favors Aheer, says the voter list was rigged and the whole dispute is about getting rid of her and favoring an anti-abortion candidate for the riding nomination.

For Leela Aheer, the bull battle was just a warm-up. Win or lose, no one can doubt the courage of this politician.

Don Braid’s column appears regularly in the Herald

Twitter: @DonBraid

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