It would be in the interests of the Progressive Conservatives of Alberta to choose as its next leader someone strong enough on his or her right flank to prevent the Wildrose Party from taking away a large number of voters from the Conservatives. This week, a poll of Albertans shows the former cabinet minister Gary Mar as the candidate with the most support – but “undecided” holds a massive lead, which will presumably decline before Sept. 17, when the party’s members vote on the first ballot.
But Ted Morton, the former finance minister, is the candidate most likely to hold on to potential defectors to Wildrose, a party much more ideological than the Conservatives.
Mr. Mar has breadth of experience, having held five cabinet portfolios. He is a moderate, centrist figure, backed by several of the same people who supported the highly respected Jim Dinning, a former provincial treasurer. With these credentials comes the vague but perilous label “Red Tory” – which is also attached to another candidate, Alison Redford, the former justice minister.
Mr. Morton and Rick Orman, a cabinet minister from 1986 to 1992, are the two main leadership candidates on the right side of the spectrum.
A salient difference between the two is the controversial but prudent Alberta Land Stewardship Act. Mr. Orman says he would “unequivocally” repeal it. But Mr. Morton was the cabinet minister who introduced it into the legislature. He recently said, “Politics is the art of the half-truth, so [Wildrose has] done a damn good job of using the half-truth” about the ALSA.
Mr. Morton is right-wing enough to fend off the Wildrose threat, but moderation is part of his complex character. He would probably govern with considerable fiscal prudence. Though he is often called a social conservative, that reputation is largely based on his long-held conservative views in favour of judicial restraint in constitutional law.
The Progressive Conservative leadership campaign is still at an early stage. At present, the case for Mr. Morton appears persuasive, but the other five candidates have seven weeks in which to show that they would be better leaders of their party, and better premiers of Alberta.