Two years ago today, Ed Stelmach quietly stepped out of the political spotlight after a nearly five years as Premier of Alberta. The mild-mannered farmer from Andrew dedicated more than twenty-five years of his life to municipal and provincial politics and led the Progressive Conservative Association to win one of its largest electoral victories in forty years. Despite this win, his party’s Calgary establishment never forgave him for defeating their choice for leader.
On January 25, 2011, facing dangerous divisions in his party and caucus, Mr. Stelmach announced his decision to resign. On October 7, 2011, he was officially replaced by Calgary MLA Alison Redford.
While there were certainly controversies and missteps during his time as premier, Mr. Stelmach made significant decisions that have had a positive effect on our province. Considering my history with the man, some readers may be surprised to learn that I believe history will be kind to Alberta’s thirteenth Premier. Here’s why.
Six reasons why history will be kind to Ed Stelmach
1) Mr. Stelmach reinvested in public services and infrastructure. After years of neglect, his government tackled the province’s growing deferred maintenance budget by investing billions of dollars into public infrastructure. The $1 billion GreenTrip Fund provided to municipalities allowed for the expansion of public transit in Alberta’s fast-growing cities. A series of 5% increases to the health care budget helped to stabilize the see-saw of unpredictable funding allocated by his predecessor, Ralph Klein.
2) The creation of the Capital Region Board helped de-escalate the tensions and narrow the deep divisions between the dozens of municipalities in the Edmonton region. While tensions still exist in some corners of the capital region, Mr. Stelmach helped usher a détente by forcing the municipal politicians to use a process for resolving grievances and planning the future.
3) The creation of the Ten-Year Plan to End Homelessness set a bold plan in motion to eliminate homelessness in our province by 2017. Along with plans to end homelessness in Calgary, Edmonton, and many other cities in the province, thousands of Albertans have been successfully housed through programs like Housing First. In 2012, Edmonton’s Homeward Trust honoured Mr. Stelmach with Special Recognition for Leadership towards Ending Homelessness
4) The introduction of the Lobbyist Registry helped shine a spotlight into the shadowy world of political lobbying and horse-trading. Although not foolproof, the registry gives Albertans a chance to see who is being paid to influence their elected officials on a daily basis.
5) During his first year in office, Mr. Stelmach concluded a deal with the Alberta Teachers Association in which the province agreed to contribute $2.1 billion towards the $6.6 billion unfunded pension liability. In exchange, Alberta’s 34,000 teachers agreed to a five-year contract.
6) Mr. Stelmach moved the Tories back to the centre of the political spectrum. While he did not stay to face them in an election, he recognized that to compete with the upstart Wildrose Party, he needed to move his party to the middle, rather than the political right. While this angered his opponents both inside and outside his party, this decision may have helped save his party from political defeat in the 2012 election.