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 Calgary, Edmonton 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)