Ted Morton and the Alberta Tory leadership vote results

Never mind the winner. Yeah, Calgary lawyer Gary Mar got way more votes than anyone else — enough to clinch it decisively had Alberta’s Conservative leadership ballot count last night been in a normal first-past-the-post election.

But for the moment, there is no official winner, just three contestants still standing in the race to become Alberta’s Next Top Premier ™ and two more weeks in which they need to Keep Calm and Carry On.

The real story today is the loser. Say what you will about Albertans and their one-party ways, they’re true to their principles, and principled Albertans don’t like a sneak.

And let’s face it, by almost any reasonable yardstick of behaviour, that’s exactly what Ted Morton showed himself to be.

This is a guy who in January as minister of finance sandbagged his own premier for personal political advantage. Readers will recall how the American-born far-right ideologue in effect told Premier Ed Stelmach to let him bring down the Shock Doctrine budget he wanted or he’d quit and so would his supporters in caucus.

With the Wildrose Alliance appearing to breathe down the Tories’ necks at the time, such a manoeuvre would have left the premier with a political crisis he might not have been able to unravel. Disinclined to destroy the province’s economy and drive away his party’s moderate core to satisfy Morton’s notions of ideological purity, Stelmach astounded everyone except perhaps his wife Marie and pulled the plug on politics.

The self-described “every liberal’s nightmare, a right-winger with a PhD,” was also the candidate who most radically changed his story about what he believed in. In the 2006 leadership race that Stelmach won, Morton did pretty well by acting like the hard-right market fundamentalist he is.

Back then, he advocated a U.S.-style model for health care that would look like the way Albertans get veterinary care for their pets and livestock. This time, all of a sudden he was Medicare’s Greatest Friend. When the Calgary Herald started describing him as public health care’s great defender, many of us thought Alberta Conservatives would be fooled. Evidently not!

But the knife in his political heart was just a little thing: that Freddy Lee government email address he used that was uncovered mid-campaign by CBC investigative journalist Charles Rusnell.

Morton and his supporters tried to blow it off as something everybody does, and with his legal name to boot. But Albertans saw it for what it was: an intentionally deceptive tactic. And those who voted in the Tory election gave its dismissive and contemptuous defence the hearing it deserved.

Morton did a lot of work getting ready for this run. He had his supporters lined up and his political ducks in a row. It’s said here that Rick Orman, another candidate who staked out essentially the same economic position, did far better last night than he would have had Morton not been caught doing business behind a couple of names most Albertans didn’t know were his.

Morton would have done far better last night if he’d forthrightly owned up to using an email address he shouldn’t have, and apologized for his behaviour. He also would have done better if he’d just admitted he is what he is — a committed free-market foe of public health care. On health care, that’s exactly what he did in 2006, and he made it to the finals.

At this point, Danielle Smith and her far-right Wildrose Party will try to elevate Morton to sainthood to make their case no “true conservative” can be elected to lead the Conservatives. They’ll also try to use the relatively low turnout yesterday — 35,000 fewer voters than in 2006 — to argue their support is still stronger than polling shows it to be.

Well, good luck to them. A split right wing is never a bad thing. But don’t bet on the right-wing vote being all that spit, or the Wildrose being anything but obliterated, whether Mar, second-ranked Alison Redford or third-place Doug Horner wins the final battle in two weeks. Both Redford and Horner are former ministers in Stelmach’s cabinet.

And don’t assume that Mar will emerge the winner just because he has over 4,400 more votes than his two remaining challengers combined — everyone has two more weeks to cook up deals, sell memberships, and book the buses needed to bring their supporters to the polling stations.

But it’s probably safe to conclude that Dr. Frederick Lee Morton, also known as Ted, is finished in Alberta politics. Just guessing, but here’s a prediction he’ll soon retire south of the 49th Parallel, work for a right-wing “think tank,” and live very well indeed, thanks to the public service pension he doesn’t think anyone else should have. Or maybe he’ll go back to the University of Calgary, which is pretty much the same thing.

Meanwhile, one imagines Premier Stelmach, an honourable guy who had a harder time as premier than he really deserved, is pretty pleased with the outcome of last night’s vote.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...