While water flood levels of the South Saskatchewan river rose around Medicine Hat and heavy rain continued to pour, Premier Ed Stelmach was leaving for a European vacation. In a recent interview on My96fm radio, Premier Stelmach fumbled his way through an explanation of why he and his wife left to vacation in Portugal as the flooding disaster in southeastern Alberta intensified. (Click on the link below to listen to the interview and skip to 1:17 point in the interview).
I do not begrudge the Premier for taking a vacation, but there are significant symbolic reasons why political leaders show up at disaster areas. Dispatching cabinet ministers to view the damage is not enough. It is a political problem that Premier Stelmach still has not visited the affected areas of southeastern Alberta. As Don Braid wrote, people affected by disasters notice when their elected leader does not even showed up to see it with through his own eyes. Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall has already made a number of trips to the affected areas on his side of the provincial boundary.
This is not the first time that an occupant of the Premier’s Office has been away on leisure while Albertans were waiting for leadership. Premier Ralph Klein went on a fishing trip while Mad Cow Disease was causing Alberta farms to be put under quarantine in 2003 and former Premier Don Getty was discovered to have been “working out of the office” at a golf course during the height of the Principal Group collapse in 1987.
Premier Stelmach’s absence has been noticed and is producing some harsh criticism from the Albertans in this region who have overwhelmingly voted for the PC Party since the mid-1970s.