Ted Morton, the former Finance Minister and unsuccessful PC leadership candidate, was holding court at the Manning Foundation. He was going to give a speech on how a bunch of lefty carpet baggers (aka the “Two Minute Tories”) hijacked the PC leadership selection process to the enduring detriment of the Blue Tories.
The party faithful clustered around him to exchange pleasantries. Ms Soapbox worked her way to the front of the line and introduced herself as a Two Minute Tory who’d made the unfortunate mistake of voting for Ms Redford in the last PC leadership race.
Mr Morton stared blankly at this creature shaking his outstretched hand. A smart politician would have leapt at the chance to validate his theory that progressives buy PC memberships to elect the “least objectionable candidate” (his words) because after 40 years of continuous PC reign that candidate will become the next premier of Alberta. Instead he mumbled something and looked helplessly in his wife’s direction. Oh well.
To give Mr Morton his due, he gave a very enlightening presentation, although perhaps not in the way he intended.
Here are the highlights:
Two Minute Tories wreak havoc: Mr Morton flashed up charts and graphs demonstrating that in the last three leadership races a dark horse (read: undeserving contender) used the Second Ballot Strategy (buying a whack of progressive voters with ridiculous promises) in order to take down the front runner.
Nancy Betkowski—who’d been groomed to become the PC’s first female premier—was trounced by Ralph Klein. Jim Dinning lost to Ed Stelmach of all people. Mr Morton admitted that his own “anyone-but-Dinning” campaign helped push Mr Stelmach over the 50% threshold. Wouldn’t that be galling!
Finally, in 2011 Gary Mar (a deserving PC in Mr Morton’s eyes) lost to the interloper Alison Redford who deployed the Second Ballot Strategy with lethal force and bought off the public employees’ union, the United Nurses of Alberta and the teachers’ union in order to ascend to the Premier’s office.
This is curious. The PCs have been buying votes with pre-election promises for decades. The only difference here is who was bought (if indeed they were). Apparently providing corporate welfare to Big Oil is less objectionable than providing public services to Albertans.
Right vs Left: Mr Morton quickly fell into the classic political shorthand of Right versus Left. (Presumably there is no “in-between”). He suggested that Ms Redford would continue to pander to the “party of tax collectors” at the expense of the “party of tax payers” until financial sanity returned to government.
He referred to the post-Regan and Thatcher eras which split voters into two camps: those who give more in taxes than they get and those who get more than they give and want to get even more. The inflammatory rhetoric is alive and well at the Manning Foundation.
NOTE: This Right/Left view of the world is myopic and creates a tremendous opportunity for a centrist party to mobilize voters focused on issues (health, education, environment), not party labels.
The Urban/Rural Divide: Due to a quirk in demographics the urban/rural divide is drawn at Battle River—the south was populated by US migrants; the north by eastern European immigrants. The south is the birthplace of new parties that rise like a tsunami and unceremoniously wipe out the ruling party. The Wildrose is following this historical pattern.
Vote Splitting on the Right: The PCs are losing rural support. They need to craft a coalition of Edmonton and Calgary voters (edging out the Liberals and the NDP) in order to succeed.
This creates a real danger that the conservative vote will be split between the PCs and the Wildrose, and, to quote Mr Morton, “it would be a shame if Alberta went Left by default”. At this point Ms Soapbox exercised supreme self-control and did not leap out of her chair and shout “Yessss!!!
The future of the PC Party: When asked whether the PC party was dead, Mr Morton replied, “Maybe, maybe not.” He didn’t elaborate but I will. There are two possible scenarios:
The doomsday scenario: The Wildrose and PCs split the vote and Alberta “defaults to the left”. Mr Manning issued a warning: Do not underestimate Alberta’s small “l” liberal base.
25% to 30% of Albertans are Liberals. The Liberals could rise again if the party (1) finds a new charismatic leader—someone like Calgary’s mayor Nenshi literally “walks on water” and would capture the urban vote in Calgary and Edmonton in a heartbeat (a solemn hush fell over the crowd), (2) ditches the Liberal name and severs all ties to the federal Liberal party and (3) develops some new policies (presumably conservative ones).
The miracle scenario: The Wildrose bridges the rural/urban divide by focusing on issues not ideology. For example, the concerns of rural land owners and environmentalists are aligned.
This sounds like a tough slog given the Wildrose’s ideological bias toward the corporatization of government by privatizing anything that moves and its belief that the free market will solve all ills. The enemy of my enemy may be my friend—but only until the skirmish is over, then it’s back to base camp.
Ms Soapbox swore she’d never again become a Two Minute Tory and vote for the “least objectionable candidate”, however Mr Morton says this is an effective tactic. So what do we do?
Do we continue to throw a monkey wrench into the PC leadership selection process? Will this drive even more Blue Tories into the arms of the Wildrose? Will this split the conservative vote or make the Wildrose even stronger?
If we support the “least objectionable candidate” will she and her incompetent party destroy what’s left of our public services over the next four years?
Do we ignore the PC leadership selection process all together and focus our attention on strengthening…who? The Liberals, the NDP, the Alberta Party or the Green Party?
Bottom line: the Manning Foundation, Alberta’s leading conservative think tank, thinks there’s room for a centrist party in Alberta…will somebody please get their act together!!!