6 reasons why Alberta history will be kind to Ed Stelmach

Five years ago today, Ed Stelmach began the process of quietly stepping out of the political spotlight by announcing his resignation as Premier of Alberta after nearly five years in the office.

The mild-mannered farmer from the Village of 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 its forty-four years as government. Despite this win, his party’s Calgary establishment never forgave him for defeating their choice for leader in the 2006 leadership race.

On January 25, 2011, facing dangerous ideological divisions in his party and caucus, Mr. Stelmach announced his decision to resign. On October 7, 2011, he was replaced as premier and party leader by Calgary MLA Alison Redford.

While there were certainly controversies and missteps during his time as premier, Mr. Stelmach made a number of 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 Alberta 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 Municipal Sustainability Initiative and 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. While homelessenss will not be eliminated by 2017, the provincial plan along with plans to end homelessness in CalgaryEdmonton and other cities, thousands of Albertans have been successfully housed through programs like Housing First.

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. This is a stark contrast to his predecessor and successor, who waged war on Alberta’s public sector workers, their pensions and their unions.

6) In the spirit of former Premier Peter Lougheed, 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 right-wing Wildrose Party, then led by Danielle Smith, 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. Had he remained leader of the PC Party, he might still be Premier of Alberta today.

While he never enjoyed the same level of personal popularity as Mr. Klein, I suspect the actions Mr. Stelmach took while in office will have a longer lasting positive impact in this province than those of his immediate predecessor.

(This post is an updated version of an article first published in 2013)

11 thoughts on “6 reasons why Alberta history will be kind to Ed Stelmach

  1. Joe

    Stelmach created the Wildrose because he was too far to the centre. He needed to move further to the right, and he realized he had erred and could not win the 2012 election. This is the only reason he stepped down.

    He will be remembered for having the leadership to keep the 10% flat tax and not to raise any other taxes.

    He also should not have increased runaway health care spending or done the royalty review. All of these things did him in. He will be seen as a Liberal, not a conservative.

    Reply
  2. Jerrymacgp

    His biggest mistake was making Ron Liepert Minister of Health, and then letting him tear down our health system to create AHS, probably the biggest boondoggle ever conceived.

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  3. Steady Eddy 4 Life Yo!

    Joe’s a moronic right wing troll.

    Dave, you’re largely correct although Stelmach’s inability to stand up to Mortin, and the resulting chaos that consumed the PC Party (ie Redfraud), is somewhat on Ed’s shoulders. He needed to stay the course and be ok with Morton and the other so-con reprobates jumping ship for the Wildrose. Had Ed stayed on as leader he’d have won another large majority and as you say, he’d probably still be Premier.

    Although you’re way out to lunch on Point 3. Nothing has been done for the homeless or the house poor since the Lougheed era. No one has built anything remotely serious on the affordable housing file. All the 1970s era affordable housing in Edmonton is oversubscribed, chronically underrepaired, and wasting away in place, while nothing new is built.

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    1. Julie Ali

      Creating AHS was good in some ways.

      It consolidated the health care regions into one entity. Each of the former health regions had expensive staff and letting go of these folks cost Albertans a major sum of cash. How much did we spend just getting rid of the executive staff? Here is just one account of partial costs for some of the executive staff:
      http://www.fortmcmurraytoday.com/2008/10/20/500000-golden-parachute-for-former-northern-lights-health-region-ceo

      The former head of the local health region received more than $500,000 in a severance package after the health region was dissolved.

      The severance packages for five of Alberta’s nine former health region CEOs were announced earlier this month, follwing the June 8 dissolution of the nine regions and the creation of Alberta Health Services.

      Bernie Blais, former CEO of the Northern Lights Health Region, was paid $562,825, which includes a part-year bonus where applicable and the value of any lost pension for the period of notice, according to an Alberta Health Services press release.

      The Calgary Health Region CEO made $1,703,332 in severance, while Capital health’s CEO took away $1,510,819. The Peace Country Health Region and Alberta Cancer Board CEOs severances are not yet settled.

      Salaries and supplementary pension amounts until their termination date will be reported in the 2008-09 audited financial statements for each health region.

      These folks got lottery winnings to take with them to their next lucrative positions.
      I only wish we could all become executive staff at AHS and Covenant Health and receive these sorts of payouts for being removed from offices where we don’t have any deliverables.
      But we are not so lucky.

      I wrote to Mr. Stelmach several times about problems with getting BIPAP machines/supplies for my handicapped sister and his staff did manage to solve these problems so I can say that the guy was responsive (or at least his staff were).
      Mr. Stelmach was a nice man who seemed to be kind.

      But maybe he was too kind.
      I do believe it was during his time that we got the Covenant Health group expanding. I may be wrong but it seems that it was his support for Covenant Health that lead to a two side by side
      health systems that drove up health costs and was not really necessary.

      We could have just had AHS but no we had to also have Covenant Health with another layer of administration and executive staff to fund with our public dollars.

      http://www.bccatholic.ca/canadian/262-ramon-gonzalez

      Alberta Premier inspired by Catholic health care
      Friday, 22 October 2010 09:04E-mailPrint

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      Ramon Gonzalez
      Western Catholic Reporter

      EDMONTON–Premier Ed Stelmach praised the work of Covenant Health and hinted his government may shape new health care legislation on some of the values this Catholic organization embraces.

      Speaking at the annual meeting of Covenant Health at Westin Hotel Oct. 5, Stelmach said his government would soon introduce new health care legislation “that is going to put our patients first.”

      “This will be legislation that will talk about the physical and mental and the spiritual health of all Albertans,” the premier announced at the meeting.

      Stelmach, a Catholic, said the work Covenant Health does throughout the province touches many Albertans’ lives everyday.

      “I know what Covenant Health does comes from the heart,” he said. “This really is an organization that truly lives its values everyday. ”

      At the meeting, the premier recounted his own experience with Catholic health care during his childhood.

      As a Grade 1 student in Andrew, Stelmach fell off a slide and broke a leg close to the hip and spent three months in hospital.

      “I laid there for a couple of months until the bone healed on its own. And then I spent considerable time in a body cast.

      “During that time, I learnt a lot about the commitment of the sisters. I also learnt a lot about what they did in the community other than just providing the medical care,” the premier said.

      Sisters reached out

      “I saw people arriving in the hospital that had to deal with family issues, terminal illnesses, some surviving an accident on the farm, maybe losing a limb, which really affected their life and what they could do on the farm; it altered their life forever.

      “I saw (the sisters) reaching out to the community, reaching out to those who needed help over and above running the hospital.”

      Stelmach said the sisters also taught him to read and write English because at the time he only spoke Ukrainian. That allowed him to go back to Grade 1, which he almost missed.

      What impressed Stelmach, as he looked back, was the fact the hospital was run almost entirely on a volunteer basis.

      “That’s how we had health care provided in many communities across Alberta,” he recalled. Families with few resources would manage to find a few dollars to give to the sisters so they could invest and build a hospital.

      Stelmach said some people in Alberta and across Canada question his support for publicly funded health care.

      “If they doubt my support, I can tell you, when you sit at the kitchen table and you listen to your parents talk about how are we going to pay the bill because in those days it was very tough – that bill could have been a quarter of your whole year’s earnings.

      “I leave that on the table for everybody to consider because we are going to go for some very, difficult times in this country as we are going to find ways of funding (our) ever-increasing health care costs.

      Getting the job done

      “If we don’t have volunteer organizations working with government to deliver those programs, we will not be able to get the job done.”

      Added the premier: “We have to have serious discussions, not political discussions but serious, about how do we maintain a very good publicly funded, publicly administered health system for the future.”

      Noting that Alberta is blessed with natural resources, Stelmach said the province could be a leader in many other areas.

      “We can be leaders in caring for the homeless by implementing Canada’s first 10-year plan to end homelessness, (by building) affordable housing – all of which can lead to a better quality of life and better health.

      “We can be leaders in meeting the health needs of our citizens in a system that puts people first and also care for seniors in a way that gives them respect, gives them dignity and shows how much we value their contribution and the work they did to build the province.”

      Mr. Stelmach now sits on the board of Covenant Health I do believe.

      http://www.covenanthealth.ca/corporate-information/board-of-directors/ed-stelmach
      Ed Stelmach
      Board Member

      Ed Stelmach has a long record of public and community service. Between his five terms as a hardworking MLA from Vegreville to his leadership as Premier of Alberta, Ed held four cabinet posts as Minister of Agriculture, Infrastructure, Transportation, and International and Intergovernmental Relations. During his time as premier, he was instrumental in crafting the faith-based sector’s master agreement with government, and he helped navigate various agreements and legislation as Catholic health care made the transition from the Sisters’ leadership to the current structure.

      Before entering provincial politics in 1993, Ed served as a school trustee; the chair of the Vegreville health unit; a board member of the Archer Memorial Hospital and Lamont Auxiliary Hospital and Nursing Home boards, and he was also councilor and reeve for Lamont County s was formerly a licensed commercial realtor for Tom Shield’s Realty.

      I’m not in favour of the two systems of health care provision nor of the two systems for education provision.
      The two systems do the same things, cost us more and we have inefficiencies with the duplication of services to the community in my opinion.

      But then these are my views and they are sure not to be popular.

      It does however seem rather hard that in a time of a bust we are paying for major salaries at both Covenant Health and at AHS.

      Mr. Stelmach should have simply kept AHS around. There was absolutely no need for faith based health delivery. It’s like a split willow tree where the two split trunks are being held together by an iron pin of government. One day that tree will split and hit the house of our economy. That day is soon to come and it would be better if the tree was chopped down entirely.

      The elimination of AHS and Covenant Health would free up money and clean house. We need to do this. But I am doubtful if the NDP have the political will to do this. They haven’t even addressed the business of the AER so I doubt they will address the problems of AHS and Covenant Health. But rest assured, money does not fall down from the sky and sooner or later there will be a need for Alberta Health to cut this split willow tree down.

      Reply
  4. Linda M

    Mr. Stelmach is and was a person of integrity and compassion. While these are qualities we look for in our leaders and friends perhaps they do not fit well into “politics”. It seems that in order to do well in politics you have to be brash, abrasive and flamboyant. Mr. Stelmach worked quietly and efficiently to do the best job for Alberta and all Albertans. Politics today is a dirty business and perhaps he was simply too honest to work in this atmosphere. I personally watched him speak and when he was talking from his heart to the people, he impressed me beyond words. Alberta is a much poorer place without this man at our helm.

    Reply
  5. Perline

    Dave in 2007 you registered edstelmach.ca and forwarded it to Harry Strom’s wikipedia page. This was funny but illegal. Noe yiu say you like Ed Stelmach?

    Reply
    1. Dave Cournoyer Post author

      Thanks for the comment, Perline. Yes, I did do that, and I still think it was quite funny. There was nothing illegal about it.

      I don’t agree with everything he did but, as I note in the post above, aside from this incident, I do believe that Mr. Stelmach did some things as Premier which will have a long lasting positive impact on Alberta.

      Reply
  6. Doug M

    Mr Stelmach believed that Albertans should refine the oil that came from the Oil Sands. Two companies purchased land at Fort Saskatchewan for building refiners. Mr. Stelmach said only those companies that were willing to refine bitumen in Alberta would be given permits to work the Tar Sands. He said Not adding value to bitumen was like a farmer scraping of the Top Soil on his land! This is what formed the Wildrose of all the malcontents that would not be allowed to work in the tar sands

    Reply

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