Sunday, October 01, 2006

La "Menace Morton" LaPresse Sept 29/06

We do a monthly op- ed for LaPresse in Montreal on Alberta issues and events. They do the translation. Below is the latest piece that ran under the title La"menace Morton." Here is the link for the French version if you are interested.

Ralph Klein’s political sun has finally set. The race for succession reveals the Progressive Conservative Party fissures and divisions that had been held together by Klein’s electoral charisma and personal political prowess. Early traditional opinion polls put Jim Dinning in the lead. He is the former Klein finance minister, and the true architect of the old war on debt and deficit. However, he is not showing any support growth and may have peaked too early. The Alberta PC leadership race is wide open and inclusive and looks like a national election given the range of candidate perspectives, from the centre-left to the far right. Anyone 16 or older, who has lived in Alberta for six month and who has $5 for a party membership is eligible to vote. And they can buy their memberships right on voting day right at the polls.

Traditional polling is not much help in predicting the outcomes. They underestimate the fact this contest is not about opinions or intentions but rather about engaged citizens who pay for a party membership, then shows up and votes. Polls underestimated candidates like Dr. Ted Morton, University of Calgary political scientist whose neo-con values and theo-con visions align comfortably with the Bush White House and the American Republican right. He has a significant, organised, committed, energized, evangelical and old Reform Party voter base. That, with citizen cynicism and political passivity, could be enough for a first-ballot Morton majority in a crowded field of nine candidates.

Morton co-authored, along with now Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a letter to Premier Klein demanding a “firewall” be built around Alberta to “protect” the province from federal demands on sharing resource revenues with Canada. Harper appears to have moved on. Morton hasn’t. He is unapologetic, insisting that Alberta’s wealth is exclusively Albertan and we need “protection” from federal government intrusion, regardless of who is Prime Minister.

The irony is that while resource revenues are surging they aren’t what they should be. Thanks, in part to an outdated oil sands royalty regime designed in the mid1900s to attract oil sands investment when oil was about $13 a barrel. It has worked well. So well, in fact, that it has attracted a potential $100B of private investment.

Premier Klein recently admitted he had no plans to handle this level of growth. The Opposition was right to criticise Alberta’s failure to manage its prosperity and to optimize its growth. The Opposition wasn’t alone. Former Premier Peter Lougheed has said publicly the Klein government has made a “mess” of oil sands development.

Albertans are now questioning if their government is squandering its rightful share of this valuable non-renewable resource revenue. Alberta could and should have done much better in managing and stewarding oil sands development. Many projects have experienced horrific cost over runs absorbed, paid in large part, by the public, via deferred royalties.

The next leader and Premier must be a better manager of this resource, for the future of the province, our country and our planet. It is a major challenge that demands a forward-thinking imaginative leader. We need someone who can integrate the issues with insight and intelligence and who has the political will and power to envision and enact a new and “resourceful” energy policy.

Some, not all, of the candidates are capable of rising to this challenge. But first, they have to entice a cynical citizenry to get better informed, to buy a party membership, to make a conscious progressive choice and to then take the time to show up and vote. For progressive Albertans to pass on this chance to participate they default to Dr. Morton as their next Premier. He is a man whose values and vision for Alberta would be more at home in today’s U.S. Republican Party.