Calgary Herald

WHO IS THE REAL TED MORTON?

Divisive ideologue or unifying force?

- TONY SESKUS TSESKUS@CALGARYHER­ALD.COM

Adivisive ideologue or the only politician capable of uniting Alberta’s conservati­ve forces? Ted Morton was described as both Thursday as the Foothills-Rocky View MLA announced he was quitting cabinet to run for the helm of the Progressiv­e Conservati­ves.

The news came less than 24 hours after Morton told reporters he did nothing to trigger Premier Ed Stelmach’s departure and denied he had any intention of resigning over the upcoming provincial budget.

“I feel very fortunate to have worked for a premier who has showed the co-operation and understand­ing Premier Stelmach has showed me . . . particular­ly over the last 48 hours,” Morton said Thursday.

This will be Morton’s second shot at the Tory helm, having lost to Stelmach in the 2006 leadership contest following a surprising­ly strong bid.

Devin Iversen, who worked on Morton’s campaign, described the outdoorsma­n and political scientist as a “combinatio­n of Alberta cowboy and thoughtful intellectu­al.”

He said the academic-turned-politician understand­s the complexiti­es of government and its competing priorities. Morton connects with Albertans, Iversen said.

“When I look at the landscape of this thing right now, Ted is, I think, the only guy I can see out there . . . that can credibly have a chance of healing the rift between the PC and Wildrose supporters,” he said.

But Ken Chapman, a former Tory who is now a member of the Alberta Party, doesn’t be- lieve Morton is in tune with the majority of the province.

“He will be a premier whose clock goes counter-clockwise,” Chapman said. “He will take us backwards.”

Chapman, who left the PC Party at the end of 2009, described Morton as a right-wing ideologue who would be a “divisive force” in Alberta politics.

California-born Morton studied at the University of Toronto and, in the early 1980s, took a teaching job at the University of Calgary.

Morton became a prominent member of the so-called “Calgary School” of conservati­ve thinkers. He was elected a senator-in-waiting in 1998 and later became director of policy and research for the Canadian Alliance in 2001.

The same year, Morton joined other western conservati­ves, including Stephen Harper, in co-authoring the “Alberta Agenda,” often referred to as the “firewall” letter, which urged the province to collect its own taxes, run its own healthcare system and establish its own pension plan.

In 2004, Morton switched to provincial politics and was elected MLA for Foothills-Rocky View.

Under Stelmach, he held the cabinet portfolios of sustainabl­e resource developmen­t and finance.

Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said Morton has proven himself to be a “very skilled” politician by performing well and working his way up to the position of finance minister.

“He’s a sharp man, he has moderated a lot of his views — when was the last outspoken stuff he said since he got into electoral politics?” Bratt said. “He is a capable politician, but there is a lot of baggage there.”

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