Liberal Moves on Quebec May Determine Klein's Successor
by Margret Kopala

Published in the Ottawa Citizen, November 18, 2006
Also published in the Calgary Herald, November 22, 2006

"Dunno.," the anonymous Calgary blogger wrote. "If the **** hits the fan with the Liberals and the Quebec thing, I'm a Morton man."

In a province whose vast and still expanding wealth presents an equally vast array of issues, it is no small irony that Alberta's future leadership could be determined in Montreal.

To be sure, few in Alberta are paying much attention but that could change when the Liberal leadership convention is held in Montreal from November 28 to December 2. On the same weekend at the other end of the country, in a one-member one-vote flurry of membership sales that are permitted even as second ballot votes are cast, Alberta Tories could also be selecting the leader that will replace Ralph Klein.(The first-ballot vote will be held next Saturday, November 25. If no one wins 50 per cent plus one of the votes, the top 3 candidates will be on a second ballot the following Saturday, December 2nd, where winner takes all.)

The Liberal Party hopes to keep a lid on a resolution calling for constitutionalizing Quebec nationhood but its timing couldn't be less propitious. Wednesday, November 29th, the day the resolution may be debated, allows a full three days for the storm to gather in Alberta where the idea of special recognition for any province cuts little ice and Quebec fatigue is now palpable. "Go ahead," says Pat Beauchamp, Chairman of the Alberta Residents League (ARL), "If you are a nation within a nation, just go ahead and leave. Leave completely."

"More Alberta, Less Ottawa" is the motto of the non partisan group that also supports the Alberta Agenda. Though the ARL hasn't endorsed anyone, its members - now with team leaders in 20 of Alberta's 83 constituencies and a full complement expected for the next provincial election - can hardly fail to support the one time senator-elect and political scientist Ted Morton, an author of the original Alberta (Firewall) Agenda that calls for provincial control of the police, pension plan and collection of personal income taxes.

Of course it's possible the urbane Jim Dinning will win the leadership on the first ballot that takes place next Saturday. He's strong in Calgary, says Beauchamp, but Morton is strong in rural Alberta.

Dinning, a former Alberta Treasurer who's made a name for himself in corporate circles is leading among Alberta voters generally according to province wide polling. Whether this is true among party members who actually decide the leadership is another question.

On the second ballot, for instance, the rural vote could prove pivotal. It was on the second ballot that newcomer Ralph Klein rallied the rural vote to upset the status quo candidate Nancy Betkowski in 1992. In 2006, the rural vote could galvanize around the Quebec nationhood issue to catapult Ted Morton - a constitutional expert trained at the University of Toronto - into the leadership.

And in an uncharacteristically low key leadership race with eight candidates, Morton is also the candidate that best represents change. As Preston Manning reminded Globe and Mail readers recently, Alberta is all about "turning points". The Alberta Liberals (1921), United Farmers (1935 and Social Credit (1971) were turfed from office by new parties for their failure to anticipate or address the big issues of the day and managing the next one is pivotal if the Progressive Conservative party is to continue in government. But Mr. Manning's argument that reconciling the environment and a market based economy is today's turning point could well prove misplaced come December the 2nd.

"An Alberta strong and free is the foundation of a Canada strong and free," Ted Morton tells his audiences, warily avoiding any references to nationhood. But as a member of the Calgary School that has considered deeply a future where the pressures of post 9-11 continentalism, shifting demographics, and Quebec separatism are veering Canada into new political territory, he will not lack for resources for addressing the issue.

One way or another, Beauchamp concedes, Alberta will get the change it needs. "If Dinning is elected, it's the status quo but the party will split, whoever wins." In that case, Alberta's infant Alliance Party could be the net beneficiary. Alternatively, the federal Liberals could win power with Quebec nationhood in their platform. In this case, "Separation could go through the roof," says Beauchamp. "And if Alberta goes, so will B.C. and Saskatchewan."

Either way, expect Ted Morton to be a major player.

MARGRET KOPALA’s column on western perspectives appears every other week.

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