From time to time it’s worth reminding ourselves that Ted Morton is the worst premier Alberta never had.
That’s because now and then Dr. Morton, now 71, pops up like the proverbial bad penny with some scheme so ridiculous we need to give our heads a shake and recall this person was once minister of energy and later finance and could easily have become premier.
COVID-19 and the collapse of the oilpatch notwithstanding, this is apparently Season Two in Alberta of the Firewall Manifesto, the ridiculous independantiste screed to which Dr. Morton once affixed his signature, so it should come as no surprise the man who once described himself as “every liberal’s nightmare, a right-winger with a PhD” is back in the news.
There he was in black and white the day before yesterday in the virtual pages of the Calgary Herald outlining a risible scheme whereby Alberta could have a sales tax without having a sales tax — or, at least, without Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party being blamed for it.
Before we think about that, let’s review the once and future University of Calgary political economist’s credentials for being taken seriously by the second-best Postmedia website in Alberta.
Born Frederick Lee Morton in Los Angeles in 1949, Dr. Morton was raised in the Great State of Wyoming where his father was a prominent oilman, Republican Speaker of the state’s House of Representatives, and the party’s nominee for governor in 1982. I hesitate to mention this, for some bright spark o’ the right like Derek Fildebrandt, former UCP finance critic before being sent to Coventry by Premier Kenney for a multitude of political sins, is sure to accuse me of Alberta birtherism. In the name of public service, I’ll just have to take that chance.
The point is that this particular political acorn seems not to have fallen very far from the paternal oak tree, notwithstanding the significant change in jurisdiction.
Dr. Morton, who received his doctorate from the University of Toronto in 1981, ran successfully in Alberta’s meaningless and unconstitutional Senate-selection election in 1998, but was prudently never appointed to Parliament’s Upper Chamber by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien or any subsequent PM of either governing party.
He was elected to the Alberta Legislature in 2004 and ran in 2006 for the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party, which had grown bored with Ralph Klein. He placed second on the first ballot, but, fortunately for Alberta, Ed Stelmach emerged from third place to win.
Despite turning out to be one of the better premiers in Alberta history, though, Mr. Stelmach was not immune from error, and one was to make Dr. Morton minister of finance.
Having played a significant role in persuading Mr. Stelmach being premier wasn’t worth the irritation that went with the job, Dr. Morton tried for the leadership again in 2011.
Our rescue that time came in the form of Alison Redford, who ran an excellent campaign for the PC leadership and went on to defeat Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith in the 2012 general election despite the fond hopes and best efforts of the Calgary media. Alas, Ms. Redford’s talents as a campaigner exceeded her abilities as a premier, and the next few years were not a success for the Progressive Conservatives.
By 2011, Dr. Morton’s star had already begun to fall a little, no doubt in part because of his advocacy of more privatized health care. Despite a strong opening, he was not really a contender in that leadership race. There were better candidates like frontrunner Gary Mar and Doug Horner, the best Opposition leader Alberta never had. They eclipsed him early on and, had either won, the PCs would now be approaching a half-century in power.
Moreover, if we dodged a bullet with Dr. Morton, we certainly caught one right in the middle of our collective forehead with Mr. Kenney!
Which brings us back to Dr. Morton’s present, hopefully brief, public reappearance away from his role as “Executive Fellow” at the U of C’s right-wing School of Public Policy.
His proposal? That Ottawa be persuaded to hand over collection of the Goods and Services Tax to a coalition of English-speaking provinces, which would gather the dough for Ottawa plus their own provincial sales taxes. This would be done with the exception of Alberta, which, having no sales tax of its own, would keep all the cash and give nothing to the federal government.
That way, the feds, or the provincial coalition, or something, could take the blame, while Edmonton got the money. (And Quebec didn’t, Dr. Morton made a point of noting.)
Because we’re special, I guess. Why any federal government would consider such folly for even a moment, let alone agree to it, is not explained. Firewall 2.0 maybe? Who knows?
Dr. Morton did get one thing right in his article. To wit, that if Alberta is to survive its current bust it’s going to require a sales tax.
So thank you for that, Dr. Morton. Now it’s time for you to go and enjoy your retirement!