Fast Forward Weekly looks at the Alberta PC leadership candidates

They’re diverse. They’re at odds. They aren’t all ultra-conservative. And they’ll be part of the political landscape for years

One is proposing a provincial tax; another is promising to reduce cuts to Alberta’s rehabilitative justice programs. But whoever wins the Progressive Conservative leadership will ultimately be Alberta’s next premier.

The majority Albertans won’t be selecting the Tories’ next leader; that will be done by card-carrying Conservatives with the process starting with a first ballot on Saturday September 17. And since July the candidates have been attending all-candidate forums in cities throughout the province (they were in Calgary Wednesday September 7).

Most people would be hard-pressed to name all of the candidates even half of them. There’s several former cabinet ministers some MLAs a millionaire oilman a former international human rights lawyer a has-been school teacher and a former banker.

Here’s some info about these candidates — one will be running Alberta’s show for at least the next few years.

DOUG GRIFFITHS

Spending nine years in Alberta’s Legislative Assembly and never making it into the cabinet may be insulting for some politicians. But backbencher Doug Griffiths who was elected in 2002 following a short stint as a school teacher manages to laugh at the situation.

“I’ve heard 100 different theories” says Griffiths who at 38 is the youngest contestant and most active social media user running for premier. “Some people say geography. My constituency has always been surrounded by other people who are in cabinet so it hasn’t worked out. Other people say I speak my mind too much and I’m a little more openly critical so it’s deterred people from putting me in cabinet.”

The latter point has undoubtedly played a role. In 2009 Griffiths and three other young MLAs swore to wear black suits until the budgets were balanced and spending by the Stelmach government was reined in. He also proposed the unpopular idea of introducing a PST while he was serving as parliamentary secretary to the then-minister of finance libertarian Ted Morton. And the concept of a referendum for lowering income tax and introducing a sales tax is still part of the DNA of Griffiths’s fiscal plan to get off of the “boom-bust roller coaster cycle” in addition to reversing cuts such as the ones made in 2009 to public education.

“I want us to adopt the principle that we pay for what we get and not rely on people’s addictions to gambling and cigarettes and alcohol and the royalty revenues all the time.”

DOUG HORNER

As Stelmach’s former second-in-command Doug Horner offers the most extensive political profile in this leadership election next to Gary Mar. After his election to the caucus in 2001 Horner — a banker and agricultural businessman — served in cabinet positions in the last three governments. Along the way he handled the BSE crisis granted Mount Royal and Grant MacEwan university status and spearheaded Alberta Innovates an arms-length government organization that funds technical and medical projects.

Horner’s campaign team refused several requests for an interview with Fast Forward Weekly. His communications manager Kevin Weidlich emailed that “Doug will gladly respond to your questions publically (sic). Please post your questions to Doug’s policy section of the website. This way we can have an open discussion.” Weidlich did not return phone calls.

According to Horner’s website his platform includes the suspension of the Alberta Land Stewardship Act (Bill 36) until “all seven watersheds are fully studied” an improvement of access to public health care long-term government investment and taking education to “the next level of greatness.” However proposals such as building schools “where and when we need them” are not accompanied with any mention of funding options. He says that he makes decision through the lens of “values” rather than “dollars.”

Horner who has more than a dozen mostly rural MLA endorsements is the only candidate running from the Edmonton area.

GARY MAR

The smart money is on Gary Mar becoming Alberta’s 14th premier.

He has almost 30 years of political experience. His campaign is well funded. Tory MLAs — 24 and counting — vying for a plush cabinet post rushed to endorse him. His massive black campaign tour bus screams… um Spinal Tap reunion?

Then again the smart money was on star candidate Jim Dinning in the 2006 election and Alberta got Ed Stelmach as a consolation prize.

A Tory MLA from 1993 to 2004 Mar held several cabinet posts under former premier Ralph Klein before landing in Washington D.C. as Alberta’s point man in the U.S. capital.

As seniors’ minister in the early 1990s Mar oversaw deep clawbacks to seniors’ benefits. Single seniors earning more than $18200 a year were tagged “wealthy” and stripped of income benefits.

As health minister Mar was the spear tip in Klein’s attempts to introduce privatized health care in Alberta. Albertans balked and Klein backed down.

But Mar’s persistent. Health care he recently told an Edmonton newspaper should be viewed as an “economic opportunity.” Albertans who are willing to pay for non-critical-care surgery (such as hip and knee surgery) shouldn’t have to stand in the public-health-care queue.

“It was horribly horribly pitched” says Lori Williams associate political science professor at Mount Royal University. “It did nothing to assuage the concerns of people who do not now have a family physician.”

But Mar doesn’t back down in private-health-care delivery. “If we don’t address the issue of this then there will be a leakage of doctors who are serving in our public system who are going to a private system except in a different province” says Mar.

TED MORTON

At 63 Ted Morton doesn’t exactly scream breath of fresh air. But many observers see the fiscal and social conservative ideologue as the antidote to the Wildrose Party flanking the Tories’ right.

“There’s a sense that the Wildrose can’t do it” says David Heyman a consultant for AllPolitics Communications and former staffer for Premier Ed Stelmach. “The idea is that rather than pin your hopes on the Wildrose who have been sinking in the polls you might as well go for the guy who can become premier outright just by winning the leadership.”

It’s Morton’s second kick at the old Tory leadership can. He ran in 2006 ultimately placing third behind heavily favoured Jim Dinning and the surprise winner Premier Ed Stelmach.

In January Morton resigned as Alberta’s finance minister — a backroom power play triggering Stelmach’s resignation.

Morton has pledged to balance the province’s finances within two years without deep cuts or tax hikes roll back the 30- to 34-per cent pay increases MLAs gave themselves in 2008 and rebuild the Alberta Heritage Savings Fund.

Morton regularly touts his ties to the federal Conservative Party specifically his friendship with Prime Minister Stephen Harper as a relationship that can only help Alberta.

In July Calgary MP Rob Anders publicly endorsed Morton several times while making an announcement on affordable housing. Anders was criticized for mixing federal business with provincial politics. But rarely does one of Harper’s MPs open their mouth without clearance from Harper.

RICK ORMAN

The big question surrounding Rick Orman — aside from “Who is Rick Orman?” — is “Why is Orman a 62-year-old millionaire oilman 18 years out of the political arena and with no endorsement from the Tory caucus gunning for the leadership?

Curiously Orman hasn’t announced any policies but a series of “vision statements” (he doesn’t believe in government policies according to his website bio). But the “vision statements” read like a clichéd conservative manifesto — no sales tax free-enterprise economy etc. Not particularly visionary.

“For every politician as soon as they enter the arena it has to be obvious about why they’re in the political game” says David Heyman a consultant for AllPolitics Communications and former staffer for Premier Ed Stelmach. “He’s just been an opposition critic so far not really offering any particular vision.”

A Tory MLA from 1986 to 1993 Orman held several cabinet posts including energy minister earning him the moniker “Slick Rick.” In 1992 he ran for the Tory leadership ultimately placing third behind Nancy Betkowski and Ralph Klein. He left politics the following year entering the oil industry and sporadically founding and serving on several energy exploration companies.

Orman has recently slung stinging verbal assaults against the Conservative party his opponents and the province’s contentious Land Use Stewardship Act which he says will erode property rights and erase billions of dollars in oil and gas land leases. His criticism likely won’t woo current party loyalists but may appeal to Tories who bolted to the Wildrose Party.

ALISON REDFORD

Not your run-of-the-mill Tory Alison Redford’s curriculum vitae brims with experience in the realm of human rights law ranging from legal reform projects in Vietnam to monitoring the first so-called democratic election in Afghanistan. She’s pro-choice and marched in this month’s Calgary Pride parade. Her platform includes raising AISH payments reversing the recent cuts by the Alberta government to rehabilitative justice programs revising the contentious Bill 36 to better honour property rights promoting sustainable energy use and investing in family care clinics.

But the former minister of justice assures that she’s not a Liberal.

“I don’t actually believe that Albertans are ideological as right-wing and left-wing” Redford says. Such a suggestion isn’t surprising considering that her campaign strategist Stephen Carter drove Nenshi’s “campaign in full sentences.” As a result the aforementioned emphasis on long-term social programs is balanced with a disciplined economic policy. Rather than increasing taxes — something that left-leaning Tory leadership contender Doug Griffiths has suggested — Redford says that fiscal responsibility comes down to the better allocation of already present resources.

“Most of what I’m talking about — with the exception of AISH — is about delivering government differently and understanding that if you make those long-term connections between health and education and how they impact things like preventative work on justice you’re still spending the same amount of money. But you’re delivering health in schools as opposed to waiting for a child to walk through the door in the emergency room.”

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