Alberta Reform Party Scatters to Winds of Discontent
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, July 10, 2004

On December 31st, 2004, the Reform Party of Alberta ceases to exist. The two Albertans who ran under its aegis to become the province’s senators-elect will also relinquish their titles.

The Reform Party of Alberta was created as a shell organization to meet two objectives: the first, to allow Calgary academic Ted Morton and farmer Bert Brown to run for Alberta’s would-be Senate seats; the second to ensure no provincial party could use the Reform name. Three stalwart Alberta Reformers from the national party’s executive council were named as officers: David Salmon, Lorne Samson and David Koop.

That was some six years ago when Alberta passed its Senatorial Selection Act. Unless the legislature revives it, the Act will expire on December 31st.

David Salmon, the Calgary lawyer who filed the party’s annual returns to keep it in good standing, simply won’t file this year. And Ted Morton - just days before the June 28 federal election - secured the Progressive Conservative nomination for Foothills-Rocky View where he will run in the provincial election expected this autumn.

It’s the beginning of the end of an era.

Frustrated by repeated attempts at national government - first as Reformers, then as Canadian Alliance and, now, as Conservatives - many Albertans are looking to the provincial arena to achieve what seems too difficult to achieve in the national.

David Salmon is sure Ted Morton will win his provincial seat. “He has aspirations beyond the back benches but Ralph Klein is maintaining his own and the opposition isn’t unified.”

The winds of change may be slow to gather force but make no mistake, the Alberta premier is feeling them at his back. As Canada’s senior government leader, he will be particularly aware that the workhorses of the federation are thinning out while the young bucks grow in number and courage. Manning, Clark, Chretien, Romanow, Mulroney… with varying degrees of success or failure, all proposed solutions for the federation’s problems while the new ones are giving up on it.

Released from their old party’s ties, Alberta Reformers are dispersing. As an MLA, Ted Morton can further galvanise the other MLA’s who have signed on to the Alberta Agenda, the firewall proposals he helped author. Ralph Klein, no firewall fan, may have stopped it in its tracks with a task force he sent into town hall meetings last winter but don’t count on it. Like his health care report, its report will be released for consideration by Albertans in the run up to the provincial election.

Other developments are even further from his control. Along with the traditional parties, a spate of Alberta Agenda and quasi separatist parties have sprouted, their zeal refueled by the federal election results and Klein’s intervention.

The Alberta Party’s leader Bruce Stubbs, for instance, feels vindicated. “The Reform party shouldn’t have gone national,” says the former Reformer and leader of GUARD (Grassroots United Against Reform’s Demise). “The Canadian Alliance and the Conservatives became just another Tory party. Reform should have expressed a clear and distinct point of view. Like Quebec, we should be in charge of our own affairs, but within the constitution.”

The Alberta Party may not field candidates but Bruce Hutton’s Separation Party of Alberta expects to run eleven candidates, five of them in the Calgary area. The Alberta Alliance, to whom a Tory MLA just defected, is also expected to field candidates.

Bruce Stubbs agrees with the growing number of Albertans who see Klein as just another liberal, among them the publisher of the Calgary based bi-weekly publication The Western Standard. Branding the Klein hierarchy as “ideologically vanilla” and his government as “moribund”, Ezra Levant sees Ted Morton as the best hope for saving the provincial PCs and the province itself.

If the Alberta Report was official pamphleteer to the Reform Party, The Western Standard is positioning to do the same for the new Alberta autonomists. The glossy, upscale magazine, featuring luminaries like Mark Steyn and Andrew Coyne, balances congenital anti liberalism with analysis of western issues.

None of it helps the Alberta premier or Canada’s prime minister, for that matter. If Paul Martin is serious about reforming health care or the Senate, he needs Ralph Klein. And Ralph Klein certainly needs him. But he has to act quickly. Following Alberta’s centenary celebrations next year, Klein will likely retire. Then it will be the beginning of a new era.

Margret Kopala’s column on western perspectives appears weekly.

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