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Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Hancock and Morton Draw Battle Lines

Last night at the PC Leadership Forum drew a big crowd and a clear distinction between the Hancock and Morton world views. The difference is not as simple as Red Tory versus Blue Tory. It is more complex and turns more on how differently they each see the roles and responsibility of government and styles of governance.

It was never clearer than during their comments on crime. Former Justice Minister Dave Hancock says government can’t ignore the root causes of crime like drug addiction, poverty and mental health and believes they have to be dealt with as part of a modern crime policy. Ted Morton says who cares about root causes. His government would only deal with punishment and consequences of crime – full stop.

Morton says if “Klein says there is no plan – then there is no plan” and he bemoans the fact. Hancock says there is a plan and points to the 20 Year Strategic Plan for Alberta which he wrote and cabinet accepted. It is now being used by the government as the framework for future planning.

Morton wants to isolate Alberta behind a firewall from the rest of Canada. He laments that “Albertans sent $15B in income taxes to Ottawa last year” and says “Alberta will never be able to build the schools and hospitals it needs if it keeps sending its money to central Canada.” Hancock says we need to show how the growing wealth of Alberta benefits the entire country and we should be finding ways Alberta can exert more influence and show some national leadership.

Character counts in making candidate choices. Morton must be brought to task. He misleads us in how he frames the fed-prov taxation issue. Individual Albertans and our corporations pay the federal income tax. The provincial government’s tax and royalty money does not go to the federal government - as he implies. Hospitals and schools are a provincial responsibility. The federal income taxes Albertans pay as Canadians does not impede the province of Alberta’s capacity, in any way, to meet these responsibilities.

Albertans make more money than other Canadians and therefore we pay relatively more federal taxes. Duh! Klein, you may recall, once took the same fed bashing position, claiming individual taxes paid by Albertans to Canada was therefore money not available to meet local provincial needs. He was roundly chastised in the media and accused of being either woefully ignorant on the issue or badly briefed.

Dr. Morton is a knowledgeable and respected political scientist. Fed bashing is good sport and sometimes necessary. It ought to be done however, with some intellectual integrity. Morton’s postulating misses both the factual and intellectual integrity mark. His fed bashing misdirects and misleads us - and he knows better.

Hancock and Morton are offering Albertans clear choices about the future of the province. That should generate some serious interest and engagement amongst citizens in this leadership campaign. Remember you are selecting more than a party leader. You are selecting a Premier.