Clash of the conservative titans

A showdown seems to be shaping up between a Tory heavyweight and the Wildrose party leader

by Colby Cosh

Clash of the conservative titans

Andrew Vaughan/CP; Ted Rhodes/Calgary Herald;

As a University of Calgary political scientist, Ted Morton was famous for criticizing the role of the courts in post-Charter Canadian politics. Politics, he argued, belong to the sovereign people, and should not be confined to some remote, sterile bullring for litigators. Democracy in action may be noisy and sluggish, but it is the teacher and nurse of reason.

Yet the devil, as always, is in the details; and the former theoretician, now Progressive Conservative finance minister of Alberta, is in a tight fix as the province prepares for a probable 2012 election. The PCs are barely keeping pace in the polls with the surging Wildrose Alliance; according to an Environics survey released in December, the Alliance is actually ahead (37 per cent to 33 per cent) outside Calgary and Edmonton. Morton has been discussing the possibility of seeking a head-to-head showdown with Wildrose leader Danielle Smith, who is already nominated in Okotoks-High River. It would be an audacious move, but the risks are daunting.

The province had new electoral boundaries drawn up last summer, and the commission reined in slack limits on the range of population differences between ridings. For 2012, all votes will be created a little more equal than before in Alberta, where the countryside, much like the slower-growing provinces on the federal scene, has tended to be chronically overrepresented. Unfortunately for Morton, the commissioners left his scenic Foothills-Rocky View riding looking like a slab of peanut brittle shattered with a hammer, with large chunks handed to the neighbours. Morton has said he prefers to hold onto the nucleus of his old riding, the County of Rocky View on Calgary’s western fringe. The county has been joined with the northern edge of Calgary and its eastern suburbs to form a new riding, so even if Morton were to “stay,” he would have handshaking and chicken-dinnering to catch up on in the eastern half while still shouldering ministerial responsibilities.

Last month, however, the minister set tongues wagging by broaching the possibility of switching south of Calgary and entering into single combat against Smith. The PC incumbent there is George Groeneveld, a farmer and former wheat pool official who was an early backer of Premier Ed Stelmach’s leadership campaign. Groeneveld, 70, served as agriculture minister but was quietly dropped from cabinet a year ago. In March, his constituency board wrote an angry letter to Stelmach warning him that the PC party is “nearing the precipice of moral insolvency,” and influential PC backers have been defecting to the Wildrose cause.

Groeneveld has not confirmed plans to quit politics, but Morton, who refused comment for this article, told the Calgary Herald on Dec. 22 that “I still have lots of friends [in Groeneveld’s riding] and they’re worried that they’re going to lose. They think only two people can beat Danielle—George and me—and they think George is not going to run.” A Morton-Smith struggle might seem strange, given that both have been major figures on Calgary’s conservative intellectual scene for most of two decades. When Morton first won a legislature seat in November 2004, Smith was at the hotel in Calgary with his other supporters, and she took out a PC membership in 2006 specifically to support his run for the party leadership.

But now Smith is at the head of an enemy host, and it is beginning to look as though Morton may have to fend her off without having the all-important 2012-13 budget balanced. His personal popularity—he won 247,126 votes in Alberta’s 1998 Senate election—is not what it was, especially in the south, as talk of “moral insolvency” suggests. In 2009, as resource development minister, he introduced sweeping legislation to prevent environmentalists and other activists from using the courts to block major industrial projects. He has essentially made the Crown a giant central zoning agency for the whole province: his laws allow cabinet to identify “project areas” for infrastructure developments, freeze land titles within those areas, and force sale talks to proceed on a statutory timeline, with streamlined expropriation powers hovering over the negotiating table.

The result has been a clash of conservatisms. Morton admitted in 2009 that his plans gave cabinet “a lot of administrative discretion” but said “we want political accountability, not judge-made law” when it comes to land use. Meanwhile, farmers and cattlemen grumble about Soviet-style “five-year plans” and ready their chequebooks for Smith. On Jan. 13, the Wildrose leader, currently shopping for a pad in the Okotoks-High River riding, announced that if elected premier she would immediately repeal Morton’s “draconian” planning bills. Whether or not she and Morton end up as direct opponents, a bitter personal duel seems certain.




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Clash of the conservative titans

  1. As I sit here, sipping a Molson, I am left to contemplate the dangers of inebriation. Don't drive if you drink, and never lie face down on the sidewalk in BC, or in the street in Quebec, or a separatist leader like Rene Levesque might run you over in his car after he has had a few himself. Above all, always go home with the one that brung ya, and never warm your hands in the fire of somebody else's house that's burning. It's always your fault, so don't get caught. Hick!

  2. Pop some popcorn, kids, a seachange in Alberta politics only happens once in a person's lifetime.

    I would argue that 2012 may not bring the end of the PC dynasty, but if Stelmach's party is crippled in the aftermath it may not survive until 2016.

    Of course, I've been thinking about the new threat on the right of the Alberta PC's for what seems like years now. So the Wild Rose Alliance could disappear into the mist, too.

  3. Pop some popcorn, kids, a seachange in Alberta politics only happens once in a person's lifetime.

    I would argue that 2012 may not bring the end of the PC dynasty, but if Stelmach's party is crippled in the aftermath it may not survive until 2016.

    Of course, I've been thinking about the new threat on the right of the Alberta PC's for what seems like years now. So the Wild Rose Alliance could disappear into the mist, too.

    • Agree with you 100%, they wont do enough damage for 2012 but will open the door and Smith needs to pull it off flawlesly, if she goes against Morton, it's goiing to be a tough one!

      • I agree Smith's performance will have to be flawless, in her riding and on the provincial level. The few that still vote in Alberta need to see a competent government-in-waiting, otherwise it could be another decade of PC hegemony.

        • I like her a lot, she has made a couple of mistakes, but hey, she is a rookie, have to give her credit for that, I do hope she can keep it up, and another ten years of PC yikes! If that's the case, I hope they give Stelmach a shot of adrenaline because he is like a zombie!

  4. Agree with you 100%, they wont do enough damage for 2012 but will open the door and Smith needs to pull it off flawlesly, if she goes against Morton, it's goiing to be a tough one!

  5. Last year after 25 years as a member i toss out my PC membership and now have a Wildrose Alliance card in my wallet and i'm not alone.Ted Morton was a man i respected but the more i see of him with power the less i like. Its funny how fast they toss aside those long held beliefs once they get a taste. I live in Ed Stelmach's riding and for the first time i will be working for my WRA canditate and i really hope Ed's out on his ear when the dust settles.He has done a very poor job and shouldn't have been voted leader in the first place,he governs like a liberal and has shown he really has no idea where we need to go,we have a chance here in Alberta to be the richest place in NA but with these clowns minding the store we seem to be going backwards.

  6. Last year after 25 years as a member i toss out my PC membership and now have a Wildrose Alliance card in my wallet and i'm not alone.Ted Morton was a man i respected but the more i see of him with power the less i like. Its funny how fast they toss aside those long held beliefs once they get a taste. I live in Ed Stelmach's riding and for the first time i will be working for my WRA canditate and i really hope Ed's out on his ear when the dust settles.He has done a very poor job and shouldn't have been voted leader in the first place,he governs like a liberal and has shown he really has no idea where we need to go,we have a chance here in Alberta to be the richest place in NA but with these clowns minding the store we seem to be going backwards.

    • Stupidest thing the Alberta PC Party ever did was electing Stelmach leader. Just unbelievably bone-headed. And it's a reflection of that law in party politics which holds that whenever there is a split, polarized leadership convention, with a ton of delegates with an "Anybody but ______" attitude and a mushy "compromise" candidate, you get a bad result. Cases in point:

      1976: anybody but Mulroney vs. anybody but Claude Wagner. Result: Joe Clark, political incompetent.
      2006: anybody but Ignatieff vs. anybody but Rae. Result: Stephane Dion, political incompetent.
      2006: Jim Dinning vs. anybody but Jim Dinning/it's time for a rural leader no matter what. Result: Ed Stelmach, political incompetent.

      • You got your wish. Ed's not running next time out.

        • Yes, just read that. The only question is going to be whether it's too late, and whether Wildrose has already gained too much traction & momentum.

          • I don't think so, however the Tories need to hit the refresh key, to don't lose a lot of seats to the Wildrose.

  7. I agree Smith's performance will have to be flawless, in her riding and on the provincial level. The few that still vote in Alberta need to see a competent government-in-waiting, otherwise it could be another decade of PC hegemony.

  8. I predict Wildrose Alliance will sweep Calgary. I believe Danielle Smith would oust Ted Morton. After the Dr. Raj Sherman debacle and it appearing as though the tory machine was trying to take his medical license, I a predicting that the Wildrose will be ruling Alberta after this election – even if it is a minority. I think that the NDP will pick up more Edmonton seats but Ed Stelmach will be done as leader.

  9. I predict Wildrose Alliance will sweep Calgary. I believe Danielle Smith would oust Ted Morton. After the Dr. Raj Sherman debacle and it appearing as though the tory machine was trying to take his medical license, I a predicting that the Wildrose will be ruling Alberta after this election – even if it is a minority. I think that the NDP will pick up more Edmonton seats but Ed Stelmach will be done as leader.

    • I don't think it will be a big sweep, they will get in but who knows if she can take on Morton! I agree that Stelmach has to go and hopefully someone else gets to run in the next election!

      • You don't think Calgary will go WRA? Who do you think will hang onto his/her seat? Surely not Mr. Liepert!

        • I didn't think so and now I am sure they wont, after Stelmach steps down for the next election. Danielle is too green, but she will take a big chunk out of their supporters, and hey, never said never, look at Nenshi and Ford.

  10. Just remember what Alberta did to the federal PC's when they voted in the Reform – all gone in one fell sweep!

  11. Just remember what Alberta did to the federal PC's when they voted in the Reform – all gone in one fell sweep!

    • Hopefully!

  12. I like her a lot, she has made a couple of mistakes, but hey, she is a rookie, have to give her credit for that, I do hope she can keep it up, and another ten years of PC yikes! If that's the case, I hope they give Stelmach a shot of adrenaline because he is like a zombie!

  13. I don't think it will be a big sweep, they will get in but who knows if she can take on Morton! I agree that Stelmach has to go and hopefully someone else gets to run in the next election!

  14. Hopefully!

  15. You don't think Calgary will go WRA? Who do you think will hang onto his/her seat? Surely not Mr. Liepert!

  16. I have always called myself a Liberal and time after time watched as they failed to make a dent in politics in Alberta since my birth but I have to agree that it is time for change and I actually agree with some of the points the Wild Rose party has made. After growing up in Edmonton and mostly under Klein I know what it's like to feel like you're getting the short end of the stick so whoever actually cares about the whole province, and not just Calgary would get my vote.

  17. I have always called myself a Liberal and time after time watched as they failed to make a dent in politics in Alberta since my birth but I have to agree that it is time for change and I actually agree with some of the points the Wild Rose party has made. After growing up in Edmonton and mostly under Klein I know what it's like to feel like you're getting the short end of the stick so whoever actually cares about the whole province, and not just Calgary would get my vote.

  18. Stupidest thing the Alberta PC Party ever did was electing Stelmach leader. Just unbelievably bone-headed. And it's a reflection of that law in party politics which holds that whenever there is a split, polarized leadership convention, with a ton of delegates with an "Anybody but ______" attitude and a mushy "compromise" candidate, you get a bad result. Cases in point:

    1976: anybody but Mulroney vs. anybody but Claude Wagner. Result: Joe Clark, political incompetent.
    2006: anybody but Ignatieff vs. anybody but Rae. Result: Stephane Dion, political incompetent.
    2006: Jim Dinning vs. anybody but Jim Dinning/it's time for a rural leader no matter what. Result: Ed Stelmach, political incompetent.

  19. Ted Morton is a fake, a "conservative" who quickly sold out for a cabinet post and is now in a Party that makes up policy based on what they think will "sell". I think Smith will beat Morton silly in an election.

  20. Ted Morton is a fake, a "conservative" who quickly sold out for a cabinet post and is now in a Party that makes up policy based on what they think will "sell". I think Smith will beat Morton silly in an election.

    • I don't think so, I am not a fan of his either but he does have huge support, with hard core conservatives, it's a tough
      call. But I will tell you what worries me the most, if Smith makes mistakes like Barb Higgins did, she needs to be completely open, about everything and fearless, I really like her but I am still feeling not to convinced yet, need to see more!

  21. You got your wish. Ed's not running next time out.

  22. Yes, just read that. The only question is going to be whether it's too late, and whether Wildrose has already gained too much traction & momentum.

  23. I don't think so, however the Tories need to hit the refresh key, to don't lose a lot of seats to the Wildrose.

  24. I didn't think so and now I am sure they wont, after Stelmach steps down for the next election. Danielle is too green, but she will take a big chunk out of their supporters, and hey, never said never, look at Nenshi and Ford.

  25. I don't think so, I am not a fan of his either but he does have huge support, with hard core conservatives, it's a tough
    call. But I will tell you what worries me the most, if Smith makes mistakes like Barb Higgins did, she needs to be completely open, about everything and fearless, I really like her but I am still feeling not to convinced yet, need to see more!

  26. I am in Edmonton.

    Both Morton and Smith are from Calgary, with Calgary interests at heart.

    Which poison should I pick?

  27. I am in Edmonton.

    Both Morton and Smith are from Calgary, with Calgary interests at heart.

    Which poison should I pick?

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