‘Morton’s last stand’ – good political theatre; faint political hope

Ted Morton as high plains drifter – a likely story! Below: Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith; disillusioned Highwood Tory MLA George Groeneveld.

Alberta Finance Minister Ted Morton successfully portrayed himself as an arch-typical Western gunslinger today when he mused aloud in the Calgary media about going toe to toe with Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith in the new Okotoks-High River riding in the next provincial election, which is surely coming sooner than later.

In reality, however, Dr. Morton’s talk of seeking the Conservative nomination in the area of well-heeled bedroom suburbs and million-dollar hobby ranches south of Calgary was more likely motivated by a simple instinct for self-preservation.

Dr. Morton’s Western bravado notwithstanding, his chances of getting re-elected in Okotoks-High River are probably marginally better than in Chestermere-Rocky View, the re-drawn version of his current Foothills-Rocky View riding.

Ms. Smith, who does not now have a seat in the provincial Legislature, announced her plans to run in Okotoks-High River last fall.

In either place, Dr. Morton’s re-election in the face of the Wildrose challenge – which is particularly strong in well-off suburban Calgary-area ridings – is no sure bet.

Still, for the normally impeccably dressed, Los Angeles-born academic and ideologue to successfully pull off an imitation of a high-plains drifter at least deserves rave reviews as political theatre, even if it’s unlikely to much to improve Dr. Morton’s electoral chances come March 2012, or whenever it is the premier dares to call a general election.

Naturally, the Calgary Herald swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker, portraying the putative contest as a “rural rumble,” and the rest of Alberta’s commercial media has bobbed along in the Herald’s wake.

After all, Dr. Morton, once a mainstay of the University of Calgary’s taxpayer-supported “Calgary School” of loony-right economic and political fantasists, is the neo-liberal poster boy of Mr. Stelmach’s bumbling cabinet. Ms. Smith is a former Fraser Institute apparatchik, which is basically the same thing without the PhD. Both are beloved by the province’s instinctively right-wing mainstream media.

Hence the Herald’s over-blown characterization of the potential election scrap in Okotoks-High River as a “clash of conservative champions.” Well, at least they didn’t call them titans!

Given the vote totals in the pre-redistribution versions of both electoral districts, a Conservative candidate like Dr. Morton should have been safe in either. He won in 2008 by 57 per cent of the vote in Foothills-Rocky View – 6,916 votes to 5,130 for all opposition parties combined. Voter turnout was 45 per cent, which is respectable by Alberta standards.

The bitterly disillusioned George Groeneveld, the current Highwood MLA who was cashiered from Mr. Stelmach’s cabinet for reasons of pure political convenience, won in 2008 by better than 65 per cent of the vote on a pathetic 36-per-cent voter turnout – 7,715 to 4,135 for all opposition parties combined.

But that was then and this is now. Mr. Groeneveld, despite being a little cute about his plans, is not going to run again for Mr. Stelmach’s party. When he doesn’t, he’ll probably vote for Ms. Smith. So will many of his Conservative supporters, furious at his treatment by the premier’s Northern Alberta inner circle.

Moreover, many voters in the riding who normally back the traditional opposition parties will vote Wildrose just for sport.

Finally, the prospect of a real contest will attract many electors who didn’t bother to make the effort to vote last time. So look for much higher voter turnout percentages – never good news for a governing party.

Ultra-Conservative and well-heeled voters in the expensive bedroom suburbs that dominate both ridings – notwithstanding the “rural” appellation predictably and misleadingly trotted out by the media – clearly find Ms. Smith’s brand of hard-line market fundamentalism appealing. This must be particularly frustrating to Dr. Morton, who represents the same kind of thinking in Mr. Stelmach’s cabinet.

Regardless, this all adds up to bad news for the Conservatives, especially in Dr. Morton’s current territory. A case can be made that Tory prospects are likely to be marginally better in Okotoks-High River than in Chestermere-Rocky View, offering Dr. Morton a forlorn hope of re-election.

But well-placed sources in the Wildrose Alliance say they don’t particularly care where Dr. Morton runs, they’re confident they’re wearing the right boots to kick his butt in either riding.

The auguries being what they are, they are probably right.

This post also appears on rabble.ca.

3 Comments on "‘Morton’s last stand’ – good political theatre; faint political hope"

  1. Anonymous says:

    With all due respect to your deep insights into conservatism and the Conservatives, George Groeneveld wasn't cashiered for pure political convenience. He was cashiered for being bad at his job. Usually, at least one group of producers (cattle, grain, hogs, etc.) likes the Ag minister, but everyone pretty much thought George was way over his head.

  2. Ken Chapman says:

    It is entirely possible Dr. Morton's musings are aimed at dividing the PC caucus as much as sabre rattling at the WAP.

    I think he is testing the courage of his hardcore Con caucus followers and raising the electoral anxiety of the already intimidated progressive rump in the Stelmach caucus.

    We saw how little it took to dispose of Campbell and James in BC politics. Is there a crack in the PC caucus and is Dr. Morton shining a light on it…if not through it? Just asking!

  3. Holly Stick says:

    Wouldn't it be good if Smith and Morton took each other out, and someone else ended up on top?

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