On April 21 in Eckville, Minister Ted Morton and MLA Evan Berger debated property rights lawyer Keith Wilson. They debated the merits, or lack thereof, of the now controversial new laws — commonly known as bills 19, 24, 36 and 50.
The dispassionate 400-plus attendees that filled the hall in Eckville quietly listened to Morton and Berger’s declamations against the assertions that the Land Stewardship Act (Bill 36) harms landowners’ rights. Both claimed the intent of the legislation was to protect landowners’ rights.
To illustrate their arguments, Morton and Berger projected a series of slides onto the wall titled, Debunking 5 Myths. The crux of their presentation can be summed up as simply a regurgitation of previous government denials. When the two MLAs finished their presentation, the audience respectfully responded with a somewhat muted applause.
Keith Wilson began his presentation by respectfully disagreeing with Morton. Wilson then acknowledged that while the intent of the minister may have been admirable, the actions or outcome of passing the legislation did not match the intent. As Wilson began to explain how the legislation did not match the intent, he was heckled by Minister Dave Hancock, who happened to be seated in one of the front rows.
If the crowd was dispassionate at the onset, Hancock’s heckling sent tremors that stirred the crowd. The mood of the audience suddenly changed. It was as if everyone in attendance was shaken into a state of attentiveness.
Unshaken by Hancock’s heckling, Wilson, being the accomplished lawyer he is, shredded Morton’s argument systematically. Piece by piece and section by section, Wilson cited case law and read out exactly what the law says, and explained to the audience exactly how the law stripped Albertans of their rights.
Few in attendance remained dispassionate. Everyone could plainly see the contrast between Morton’s and Wilson’s presentations. The presentations could not have been farther apart. While Morton remained loyal to the government’s denials, Wilson just had the audience read the section of the act and asked the audience to decide for themselves.
Decide for themselves they did!
The tremor that Hancock’s heckling caused turned into a rumble, and when Wilson finished his presentation the hall exploded into a thundering applause and standing ovation. It was as if Morton and Berger were trying to convince everyone inside the hall that the sun was shining when all but those who suffer from delusions could plainly see it was dark outside.
Undaunted by the audience’s sudden decision not to buy the government explanation, Morton tried to blame the Wildrose party for his failure to be convincing. The crowd grumbled, because all could see that the Wildrose party did not participate in the debate.
Grasping for another excuse, Morton attacked Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson for causing the stock market to suddenly drop. That comment made no sense to the audience.
Liberal MLA Hugh MacDonald was sitting in the audience, and I suspect if Morton had seen him too, he might have blamed MacDonald for the sun setting.
The audience did not buy the reference to Anderson’s influence over the stock market, so the crowd began to boo! The booing grew louder when Morton ignored and refused to answer a question on Bill 50.
It is safe to say the booing and heckling was not limited or mute. It was extremely loud and abundantly clear, and it was directed right at Morton and the Alberta government.
Morton came to Eckville to sell the government’s excuses in an effort to justify the ill-conceived pieces of legislation, but there were no buyers and he couldn’t give the excuses away.
What can Morton do now? Maybe, just maybe, Morton could solicit the help of Wildrose MLA Rob Anderson. Surely anyone who is reputed to have the power to move the stock market must be able to convince the public that their rights are better protected if we just remove them altogether.