albertan gothic: ed stelmach’s resignation: the morning after.

Albertan Gothic: Premier Ed Stelmach and his wife, Marie, at yesterday's media conference.

It has been fascinating to watch Premier Ed Stelmach‘s career as Premier culminate towards yesterday’s announcement that he will not lead his party into the next provincial general election. As someone who was too young to remember Don Getty‘s resignation and Ralph Klein‘s accession to the throne, it was certainly an interesting political experience for me to see the entire political life of a Premier for the first time.

It is not a secret that since entering the Office, Premier Stelmach struggled to define his leadership style. Under his Premiership, the general policy direction of his government sometimes appeared to be drifting towards numerous locations at the same time. The Progressive Conservatives have been in office for nearly 40 years and have become a natural governing party that in many ways creates and adopts policy as would a an amorphous blob.

With both his party’s popularity and personal approval rating having drastically dropped since the 2008 election, it would not be surprising to learn that more than a few PC MLAs and cabinet ministers were planning not to seek re-election if there was not a change in leadership. I have also heard that tension between the Premier and Finance Minister Ted Morton, and MLAs and the Premier’s Chief of Staff, Ron Glen, also heavily contributed to yesterday’s announcement.

Malcolm Mayes' Edmonton Journal political cartoon in January 2008 (I'm the Mac).

I had a special relationship with the Premier that began in December 2007 when his lawyers threatened to sue me over my ownership of the URL edstelmach.ca. After forwarding the URL to the wikipedia entry of the last Social Credit Premier Harry Strom, I received a threatening letter from the Premier’s lawyer demanding that I cease and desist (and govern myself accordingly). The Premier may have been insistent that his name was his name, but when push came to shove they backed down (and helped me increase this blog’s readership by at least 500%). Without malice three years later, it turns out that I was closer than I thought with my Premier Strom comparison.

Likeness to Premier Strom aside, it would be unfair to say that Premier Stelmach has not achieved anything while occupying his current office. Always a class act, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said it well in an interview with the Calgary Herald yesterday:

“Right now I think it’s not time to think about politics. It is time to think about Premier Stelmach’s legacy as a really decent human being and a really dedicated public servant.”

He promised and implemented the long-awaited Lobbyist Registry. His 2010 budget provided a five year commitment to stable funding for Health Care and Education, two departments that had felt the brunt of the budget cuts in the 1990s. His government established the Capital Regional Board, which started a long-overdue armistice that ended the regional turf wars between municipalities in the Edmonton region. His personal commitment to ending homelessness should also not be forgotten, as his government has supported the development and funding of municipal 10 year plans to end homelessness.

Many of these accomplishments have been overshadowed by the decision to raise and then again tinker with the natural resource royalties collected by the provincial government, which angered many in Calgary’s energy sector. The downturn in the economy and the return to deficit budgets also changed how many Albertans viewed the PC government, after years of being told that “deficit budgets were illegal” during Premier Klein’s tenure. The forced merger of the province’s nine regional health authorities into one mega-health authority known as Alberta Health Services also raised serious questions about proper planning and the value of centralization in Health Care. His government’s decision to challenge rural landowners over property rights and the construction of high powered electrical transmission lines also created conflict in areas of the province that had been PC strongholds for decades.

Premier Stelmach’s eventual departure does not automatically save the PC Party from their low support in the polls. The party now needs to select a new leader while facing an organized and well-funded opposition in the form of the Wildrose Alliance, who have leaned heavily on federal Conservative Party organizers to build their party machinery. The Liberals and New Democrats remain competitive in some Edmonton and Calgary ridings and the new Alberta Party announced this week that Calgary-Currie MLA Dave Taylor had become their first MLA.

Although Premier Stelmach will remain leader of the government to oversee the next provincial budget, attention will now be turned toward his potential successors. Finance Minister Morton appears to be the early favourite and could even soon resign his cabinet post to focus on a leadership bid. An immediate Morton coronation could be postponed by the entrance of candidates such as former federal Environment Minister Jim Prentice, Advanced Education Minister Doug Horner, Justice Minister Alison Redford, or Treasury Board President Lloyd Snelgrove. It would also be interesting to see some younger talent, like Housing Minister Jonathan Denis or Battle River-Wainwright MLA Doug Griffiths throw their names in the race.

Regardless of Premier Stelmach’s departure and the leader the members of that Party chooses in the upcoming leadership contest, the big question is whether the PCs be able to redefine themselves as they approach 40 years as our province’s governing party? Will a new PC Party leader be able to satisfy Albertans’ new found appetite for political change?

20 thoughts on “albertan gothic: ed stelmach’s resignation: the morning after.

  1. Dallas

    Great post as always.

    Prentice, unencumbered by the baggage of the “Stelmach Era”, could be a gamechanger.

    Morton, also, would swing the party back to the right and solidify the base which was made very nervous under Stelmach.

    In either scenario look for many Albertans holding both Wildrose and PC memberships to come back into the fold.

    I don’t think we’ll see an election until fall of 2012 or spring of 2013, so the PC’s have a chance to balance the books and take advantage of a stronger economy.

    Reply
  2. Darren

    I think the real question is whether the tories think they need to redefine themselves or if they think a change in leadership is sufficient.
    I am reminded of the Liberal convention a few years ago when those in attendance figured the problem wasn’t the Liberal vision and message, it was that they weren’t communicating their vision properly. Well fast forward a couple of years and it’s obvious that the problem was the message, people weren’t buying into the ALP vision regardless of what volume it was communicated at.
    Same goes for the Tories here. If they figure their brand is good and that a new captain at the helm of the same ship is all that is needed, I suspect they’ll be sorely mistaken and you’ll see their numbers drop faster as people say “you just don’t get it, do you?” And, sorry, it won’t be the AP that picks up the support, it will be the WRA.

    Reply
  3. Brian Janz

    Maybe if the WRA had a different leader. Smith’s comments yesterday she has no leadership skills and is simply too extreme for the average Albertan.

    Reply
  4. Keith

    Puleeze – we don’t need any re-cycled federal politicians running AB – and for what I would think would be rather obvious reasons. What we need, imo, is a very smart, strong, capable leader who has AB interests front and center and is prepared, if necessary, to challenge the federal government on a whole host of issues. There seem to be a few to many federal/provincial PC ties already with the WAP to have inquiring minds wondering about just who is at the throttle. In the words of Hallman – I want these to parties back together (meaning the PCs and the WAP). Who appointed this guy the supreme ruler of AB? Interesting times ahead. We need some politicians who are confident and able to stand on their own merits without simply being puppets of the “back room power brokers”.

    Reply
  5. Trish

    If the Liberals and NDP were smart they wod use this as a chance to change their leaders too. Swann and Mason are terrible and leading their party’s to defeat. Rachel Notley stand up!

    Reply
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  7. Alvin Finkel

    Ted Morton will likely become the Tory leader, and will swallow up much of the Wild Rose vote, arguing, as he has, for the past year, that a divided Right could allow the centre-left to take power.

    According to a Democratic Renewal Project poll in November, 2010, there are as many Albertans (48 percent) who would prefer to vote for a united candidate of the “four smaller parties” as who would prefer to vote for the Stelmach-led Tories (29 percent) or Wild Rose (19 percent). Most of the former 48 percent won’t support a Morton-led Tory party but it will win the next election handily anyway unless most centre-left voters vote strategically.

    It’s far too soon in most ridings to figure out whom a strategic voter should support. As the election gets closer, the website, “change alberta” will be doing seat by seat analyses of interest to strategic voters.

    Reply
  8. William Munsey

    Classy comments, Dave. Ed Stelmach is a decent human being. Enough said… now that he has stepped away from the field.

    I think both Doug Griffiths and Jim Prentice would be game changers.

    Reply
  9. Aden

    Thanks Dave.
    I feel a bit bad for Stelmach, who was never quite cut out for the job and has probably had a rough few years. But even if I didn’t agree with many of his policies and ideas, he was a genuine good guy trying to do a good job for his province. I’m glad that most commentators have said so.

    An interesting observation is on the profile of the possible contenders for his position. While there may not have been any “succession-planning”, consider how many potential candidates are recognized by Albertans and have been developed to the point of being able to lead the province.
    Now compare that to the federal Conservatives. If Stephen Harper stepped down tomorrow, who could name 10 good people to replace him? I think the PCs will weather their leadership convention better than will the Conservative Party of Canada.

    Reply
  10. Brian

    Thanks for the comments. I couldn’t agree more. Premier Stelmach is a decent, respectful gentlemen in a world where such virtues appear in short supply.

    Reply
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