All of a sudden, Ted Morton’s back!

Dr. Morton, as he obviously liked to be seen, in 2007 (Photo: Wikipedia, creator not clearly identified but probably Chuck Szmurlo).

Frederick Lee “Ted” Morton has written a book – apparently to remind political Alberta that back before Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube made sedition fashionable, he was one of the authors of the notorious Firewall manifesto that now animates the United Conservative Party’s sovereignty-association agenda.

In other words, it sounds as if the retired University of Calgary political science professor and politician wants to make sure we all remember he’s one of the guys who came up with some of the worst of Premier Danielle Smith’s many terrible ideas!

Before you think about buying his book, or even do the sensible thing and borrow a copy from the public library, all you really need to remember about the retired University of Calgary political science professor and politician is that he’s the worst premier Alberta never had. Twice!

Mercifully all but forgotten by most Albertans until last week, in 2006 the California-born, Wyoming-raised Montana resident was one of eight candidates to replace Ralph Klein as Progressive Conservative Party leader and Alberta premier. 

Media took him seriously as the favourite of the party’s then still-not-completely insane right wing. The self-styled Man with the Plan was in second place on the first ballot, a good position to knock off front-runner Jim Dinning who’d been annoying his fellow Tories by acting like the PC Dauphin for months. 

Eventual PC leader Alison Redford at the September 2011 Red Deer debate (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Instead, when the dust had settled, the only other candidate on the second ballot, Ed Stelmach, emerged as the winner.

Not a bad choice, under the circumstances. Mr. Stelmach turned out to be one of the best premiers in recent Alberta history, and Alberta dodged the Morton bullet the first time. 

Mr. Stelmach, a man who deserved the nickname Honest Ed, honorably but perhaps foolishly kept the PC MLA for Foothills-Rocky View in Cabinet. In 2010, Dr. Morton was promoted to the finance portfolio, and when Alberta’s roller-coaster economy took a downward turn, he was a leader of the faction demanding deep cuts. Premier Stelmach first balked, then on Jan. 25, 2011, announced he was finished with politics. 

“A confrontation was inevitable, and it’s said to have been led by finance minister Morton,” conservative commentator Colby Cosh wrote of what he called the “Prairie Putsch” in Maclean’s Magazine in February that year. “Morton wouldn’t confirm that he had threatened to resign, although he did leave cabinet on Jan. 26.”

Whatever happened, Dr. Morton strutted back onto the stage as a candidate to lead the PCs. Ah, but he was soon to be disabused of the notion the one who puts a knife into Caesar can get to be Caesar. His 2011 I’m-Supportin’-Morton campaign was a disappointment. He finished fourth on the first ballot with only 11.7 per cent of the vote. 

Premier Ed Stelmach in his office at the Alberta Legislature Building in March 2010 (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

So Alberta dodged the bullet a second time. 

If it hadn’t, Dr. Morton would have been a disaster. How much of one? Just look at the Smith UCP Government, which has taken up his ideas.

The man is a deep well of terrible ideas, a self-described “every liberal’s nightmare — a right-winger with a PhD.”

While he got a relatively meaningless start in politics in 1998 running as the Reform Party’s “Senator-in-Waiting” candidate in the Klein Government’s fatuous Senate nominee election, his most famous bad idea was the notorious Firewall letter, of which he was one of the six signatories.

That screed – published in January 2001 in The National Post – urged premier Klein to “build firewalls around Alberta” by pulling out of the Canada Pension Plan, abandoning the Canada Health Act, and getting rid of the RCMP while replacing it with a provincial police force.

2006 PC leadership candidate Jim Dinning (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

It got more attention than it deserved because among its six signers was former MP Stephen Harper, at the time the director of the so-called National Citizens’ Coalition, but nevertheless recognized as a rising star on the political right. Mr. Harper became the leader of the Canadian Alliance Party in March that year and returned to Parliament in a by-election on May 13, 2002. We all know what happened after that.

Mr. Klein, who has now passed into history and been sainted by the same United Conservatives now pushing the manifesto’s sovereignty-association agenda, sensibly tossed the letter in the trash can and ignored it. As a result, Alberta has been a happier place for the past 23 years. 

This should all sound familiar. Thanks to Premier Smith and the UCP, though, the Firewall manifesto is now back like the proverbial bad penny. And so is Dr. Morton. 

Warren A. Morton, speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives (Photo: Casper College Western History Centre).

Last Thursday, a Postmedia political commentator devoted a column to breathlessly quoting Dr. Morton crowing that his ideas “have gone from fringe to mainstream” and pumping the tires of “Strong and Free; My Journey in Alberta Politics” (eyeroll) for when it hits the shelves next fall. 

Dr. Morton was born in Los Angeles in 1949 and raised Casper, Wyoming, where his daddy, a “proudly conservative” oilman named Warren A. Morton served for a spell as the Republican Speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives and ran unsuccessfully for governor of the state. So the nut didn’t fall far from the tree. 

Educated in the United States and Ontario, Dr. Morton earned his PhD at the University of Toronto and joined the U of C as a political science professor in 1981, where he soon fell in with the so-called Calgary School (after the Chicago School, one supposes) of right-wing professors and their hangers on. 

Firewall manifesto signer Rainer Knopff (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Two other Firewall signers were also U of C professors – Tom Flanagan and Rainer Knopff. The then chair of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, Andrew Crooks, and conservative political operative Ken Boessenkool also lent their names to the screed. I can’t explain why the Calgary Herald column said there were seven signatories. 

In September 2011, investigative journalist Charles Rusnell reported for the CBC that Dr. Morton used a covert government email account for internal communications when he was a member of Mr. Stelmach’s cabinet “to evade political scrutiny.”

Dr. Morton used the name Frederick Lee, his legal first and middle names, on an official government email address, Mr. Rusnell reported. 

In his leadership platform, Dr. Morton had called for more transparency and less secrecy. 

Apparently this kind of thing is still common in Conservative circles. 

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25 Comments

    1. CovKid: MAGA neoliberalism is a worldwide movement. We forget that at the start of World War II, in addition to Communists there were local Nazi and Fascist movements in most European countries. Dutch Nazis, Norwegian Nazis, Belgian Nazis and British Fascists, to name a few. This was well before the German Reich was invading or contemplating invading any of those places. This is no different. DJC

      1. And American Nazis holding huge rallies to hear flyboy Lindbergh and Canadian Nazis holding rallies and starting fights as referenced in the song “Bobcaygeon”. The pendulum is swinging to the right all across Europe.

      2. And in Canada. Adrien Arcand’s Canadian Nationalist Social Unity Party (Quebec, Alberta and BC) with it’s ‘blue-shirts’ enforcers and plans to exile Jewish Canadians to settlements on Hudson’s Bay, joined with the National Unity Party from Ontario in 1938 to form the federal National Unity Party, that lasted into the 1960s.

      3. Let’s not forget Alberta’s own KKK chapter, not bred out of the 1919 Drumheller coal mine strike, but strengthened by it. The people who wore the robes had been members of chapters south of the border, long before they boarded trains for this province. Bad ideas have been exported north for at least a century before any notions of truck convoys came to mind, and long before Ted Morton. He’s hardly unique.

        1. Bret: Some might say we could use one, but there are nothing but neoliberal parties in Parliament and all of Canada’s legislatures. DJC

  1. Interesting timing of the book coming out, at the same time as Skippy’s, was he hoping to ride the crest ?

    But what has me disgusted beyond words, is that CBC/ power & politics with David Cochrane had Andrew Lawton(True North) on the show to pitch the book- (Skippy’s) .

    Then we have Garry Keller using Marlaina’s talking points about the police being “justified ” in breaking up the pro-Palestinian protests at the U of A, because of the infiltrators and weapons— what the heck has happened to verifying “FACTS” before you go on national TV ?
    IMHO, Just another case of the Con-servatives being able to spread diluted misinformation without being called out on it.

    “To evade political scrutiny” seems to be a key qualification for the Con party. To serve your community, to be a voice for your constituents must have gotten thrown out with the white washing water.
    This rabbit hole is getting bigger and darker every day!

  2. These are the types of politicians that Peter Lougheed warned us about, because they are Reformers, and there isn’t a single Conservative bone in their bodies. I’m glad that Ted Morton didn’t become premier of Alberta. However, his very foolish policy ideas, which were originally rejected, are now coming to pass, from Danielle Smith. We are in for a rough ride.

  3. Perhaps Morton’s book may appeal to our current Premier, former or lapsed libertarian, Smith. If she actually has the time to read it, while she is busy manufacturing various conflicts with every other level of government.

    I don’t know if the book is intended for an audience of one, but I get the feeling Morton might prefer a more focused approach. This is something probably impossible from Smith who dabbles in political thought and says or thinks what ever sounds good in the moment.

    I do wonder if the firewall gangs’ greatest moment has now passed. While the current government was eager to pick up their ideas as talking points, there seems to be little to show to voters for it. What has all the confrontation and talk of things like provincial pension plans actually accomplished other than draconian laws restricting municipal governments?

    I suppose it was clearer and easier for Morton when Klein and Stelmach just rejected his ideas. He may have thought he finally made it with Smith, but she has bungled it and may lose interest. So perhaps he should have called his book Firewall for Dummies instead, if she really is the intended audience.

  4. Does this mean S. Harper may be reanimated as well?. I can see his shadowy figure over Poilievre’s shoulder as I type.
    Dr. Morton crowing that his ideas “have gone from fringe to mainstream” .

    Isn’t it more like now “the lunatics are running the asylum” ?

    1. Oh, don’t worry, PP will most likely appoint Harper as GG (don’t know if that is leg. but if it is, just watch}

  5. The more these idiots keep rolling out of the U of C’s whacko academia, the more I wouldn’t certain universities burning down.

  6. Thanks DJC. Now I am truly depressed. I would go back to bed but the coffee is kicking in. So, what is the ABNDP strategy to defeat this gang of wealthy and/or rural proto-libertarians? A tax cut here and a social policy there ain’t gonna do it. Any ideas? Anyone?

    1. Harper never went away. In fact he assumed a bigger role, that of the international chairman of the IDU.

  7. I very much doubt that we’ve seen the last of Morton. In fact I’d be willing to bet that if the UCP/TBA dumps Fraulein Schmidt that Morton would be more than happily parachuted into the Premier’s chair. He ticks of the boxes for TBA approval; ultra-right wing, kooky and American. That is, of course, if Parker doesn’t crown himself as premier, leaving Morton as a three time loser.

    As for Morton’s PhD, I think that Jordan Peterson provides more than enough evidence that having a degree is not an indication of a stable genius. Quite the opposite, really.

  8. That was a fun read. the pictures, yikes, he appears to be very keen on himself.
    On the upside, he is 74. What is so good about that? As a 74 yr. old myself, our days are limited and the energy isn’t what it used to be.
    My take on the book, etc: Morton has seen Smith’s direction and it appears has been accepted by many in the province. Given Alberta has gone through a number of premiers and/or leaders of the right , if people get pissed with Smith, and there is another leadership convention, watch to see him toss in his hat. Its either that or he wants the Lt. Govenor job. He may think he is not only smarter than Smith but also an equal to the King. (don’t think any of the 3 are that bright, but Morton does know how the system works.
    It will be interesting to see how things develop. Wonder if any of the right with money have put anything behind Morton………….

  9. Keep in mind that Frederick Lee “Ted” Morton’s second attempt for the PC leadership fizzled out and disappeared from the face of the earth. Seems Frederick Lee “Ted” Morton (Doesn’t that name sound like that of a Confederate general? Brigadier Gen. Frederick Lee “Ted” Morton, the stonewall at the Battle of Shilo, or something like that. The “Alberta Brigade”, noted for being a wannabe rebel band, stood like a stonewall against the Union onslaught, heroically. Well, actually Gen. Frederick Lee “Ted” Morton chickened out and lead his men in a great skedaddle.) was the treasurer a ran up an impressive deficit. He then resigned, disavowed his own budget, and announced he was running for the PC leadership. This level of crazy was too weird even for the PC, so Ted didn’t get the acclaim he once had. But the years pass and reputations can be scrubbed clean.

  10. “All of a sudden, Ted Morton’s back!”

    He never went away. The ideological ripples on the visible surface are only a small indication and foreshadowing of the larger swells (characterized as ideological waveform periodicity and amplitude) that are sure to follow, if the following is any indication, that is, the ideological assault is a twofold pincer movement that is both political and judicial:

    “Charlie Buck: Canadian conservatism’s judicial revolution is only gaining strength”

    https://thehub.ca/2024/04/30/charlie-buck-conservatisms-judicial-revolution-is-only-growing-stronger/

    Further, any activity of any importance is usually conducted sub rosa, at least in the initial stages.

  11. I met with Stelmach and Victor Krapkow, an organic farmer and winemaker and an honest to god socialist. A real character! I was comms coordinator of an organic org. Victor was the rival to the conservative leader of the org but had the gumption to demand a meeting about all sorts of concerns for organics.
    Ed was quiet and listened and asked a few questions. He made a few promises.
    We never got to follow up with Ed’s invite for another meeting. Victor was killed by a tractor accident a few months later. Ed sent his condolences and a short personal recap of meeting Victor and his commitments to organics. I share this story only to say the humility and honesty of Ed was the real deal. I’ve met with other socalled leaders and Smith ain’t one. She’s just not there. She’s likely a sociopath but not a leader.
    Why Ed let Ted rule the purse is a head scratcher. Perhaps Ed thought he was throwing Ted a bone, but really Ed was throwing Ted the throne.

  12. Unfortunately, Ted is right about his loony ideas becoming the law-which is very depressing!! Hopefully if the New Democrats win the next election they can undo the dumb laws.

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