Last week, when Paul Hinman, the endearingly awkward leader of Alberta’s conservative Wildrose Alliance party, announced that he’d step down, it triggered much breathless speculation. The party needed someone with a bit more charisma, admitted Hinman, who lost his seat in the legislature last year. Many believe that someone should be none other than Ted Morton, Alberta’s Tory minister of sustainable resource development.
Morton is a strange hybrid of populist reformer and intellectual (he was a University of Calgary political scientist), and some say he could be just the thing to galvanize Alberta’s conservative right. An avid hunter who likes getting his picture taken with his gun, he enjoys stirring the pot, whether by opposing gay marriage or pushing to revoke the hunting rights of Metis. It was Morton’s run for the Alberta PC leadership in 2006 that split the vote and delivered the crown to Ed Stelmach. Stelmach has since turned off southern Alberta—and Calgary in particular—with both a hike in oil and gas royalty dues and the first deficit in 15 years.
The Tories are now struggling to raise money in Calgary, and the Wildrose Alliance is benefiting as more dollars flow its way. A recent Hinman fundraiser packed the Calgary Petroleum Club, and in the 2008 election his party raised only marginally less than the Tories. Hinman argues that if right-wing Albertans want to contribute to a conservative party, “where else are they going to put their money?”
Hinman won’t comment directly on who will next lead the Wildrose Alliance, saying only that “the political landscape is ripe for the picking.” A Morton spokesman, meanwhile, says his office does not comment on “B.S. political rumours.” But even if Morton doesn’t make a bid for the Alliance, the buzz over just the possibility of it serves as a potent reminder that Alberta could soon embrace a political firebrand. And it could be one capable of doing real damage to the Tories.