As Premier Ed Stelmach jets off to the old Continent to hobnob with European businessmen, he is skipping this weekend’s First Ministers’ meeting on economic issues called by Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Now, I can sympathize why Stelmach wouldn’t want to attend this meeting. Can you imagine how awkward the first post-election meeting between Harper, Newfoundland Premier Danny Williams, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, and Quebec Premier Jean Charest will be? Probably not very fun, but that’s not the point. As Alberta’s First Minister, Stelmach has a responsibility to represent Albertans at First Ministers’ meetings.
After officials in the Prime Minister’s Office rightfully rejected Stelmach’s bizarre request to join the meeting by phone, he announced that he will be sending his (arguably most competent) Minister, Dave Hancock, in his place. But, Stelmach should not be quickly forgiven for his absence. He may be miles above Stelmach in competency, but as Minister of Education, Hancock is in no position to make the types of commitments on economic policy that a Premier can. Hancock is not the leader of the Government, and does not have the authority to fill the role of a Premier at that table.
When it comes down to it, Stelmach’s absence from the meeting is embarrassing for Alberta. It’s embarrassing that the leader of the most economically powerful province in Canada doesn’t grasp the important role that Alberta should have at the big table. After all his big talk about protecting Alberta’s energy interests against Ottawa during the federal election campaign and recent demands about wanting to attend future meetings between Harper and incoming American President Barack Obama, Stelmach shouldn’t have thought twice about taking Alberta’s seat at the table.