Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Baffling Rise and Fall of Ed Stelmach

The only thing more surprising than Ed Stelmach's ascension to the Premier's seat was his departure from it. In effect, "surprising" would probably be the best way to sum up Stelmach's time as premier. Or "baffling". Or "incomprehensible". After all, the most boring politician the world has ever known gave Alberta five absolutely thrilling years in politics. In Alberta, that's no small feat.

To understand Stelmach's time as Premier, it's important to first understand that he should never have become Premier. Elected as PC leader the same day Stephane Dion was elected LPC leader, Stelmach's story was very much the same as Dion's. He'd proven himself to be a mostly competent Cabinet Minister, apart from one time when as transport minister he floated the idea of moving the "fast lane" on the highways to the right. He was an afterthought to most in a crowded leadership race with 8 candidates. Still, he found himself in third place with 15% of the vote after the first ballot and, with members tired of a lengthy fight between two flawed frontrunners, Stelmach surged up the middle to win. Sound familiar?

The only difference between Stelmach and Dion is that Dion probably spoke better English.

OK, OK, I'm just being mean. But hearing Stelmach speak is truly a unique experience. Graham Thompson described it as follows:

If we're ever in the situation where the world is about to be destroyed by a giant asteroid in 15 minutes, somebody should have Premier Ed Stelmach hold a news conference and broadcast it around the globe.

For anyone watching, that final quarter of an hour will seem like an eternity. At the 10-minute mark people will be cheering on the asteroid.

To sit through a Stelmachian news conference is to witness an end to the laws of relativity and syntax as we know them.


But the thing is - it would still be worth going to that final press conference because, if you could fight through the urge to gauge your ears out, you'd probably catch a gem. Like the time when he called the Calgary Stampede, "the Alberta Stampede". Oops.

So how did the Great Miscommunicator do it? How did he win a Klein-esque 72 of 83 seats in his first election? A good question, and one without an obvious answer. Hence my description of Stelmach's political career as "baffling". Personally, I'd chalk it up to Ed being a decent guy and the lack of alternatives - remember, this was before Danielle Smith learned to walk on water. Albertans were fairly happy with how things were going so why mess with a good thing?

And that's basically how Stelmach's tenure as Premier went. He wasn't as exciting as Ralph. He wasn't the leader Lougheed was. But he also didn't mess up like Getty. There were no big scandals - a few sexist tweets by a caucus member, a silly fight over domain names, a screw up on tourism pamphlets - this is hardly the stuff that brings down governments. Yes, he took the province into deficit - but who didn't?

Which brings us to the second riddle of Ed Stelmach's career - why pack it in? The obvious answer is that the party didn't want him. To outsiders, that may be hard to understand. The man gained 10 seats in his first election. Yet he only picked up 77% in his leadership review, and endured constant criticism from his MLAs and party members.

Was this because Progressive Conservatives were worried about the Wildrose Alliance ending their dynasty? I'd argue it was the exact opposite reason. When you're in power for 40 years, winning elections becomes an afterthought. Instead of worrying about the opposition, you look inwards. Remember, Stelmach was a guy who won the leadership with 15% of the party behind him. It's not surprising that some people inside the tent weren't fans of his. I remember talking to a PC friend of mine last year and he was sure Stelmach wouldn't make it to the next election, due to pressure from the caucus, the party, and (most of all) the fundraisers. I laughed, but it looks like he was right.

Or not.

Another possibility is that Stelmach just didn't like being Premier - he never looked like he enjoyed it the way Ralph Klein clearly did. After a slew of uninspiring budgets, it was obvious he didn't have any great ambitions for the province. Most people who follow politics roll their eyes when politicians say they want to spend more time with their families but...is that really so hard to believe?
I suppose we'll never know the real reason Stelmach left. Which is fine. His entire career defied political common sense and the easy explanation - it seems fitting his retirement should too.

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17 Comments:

  • Oh wow, ANOTHER political blogger writing about Ed Stelmach. How boring. Did you know that Audrey Best died of breast cancer today? Do you know who she was? She was the former wife of Lucien Bouchard. Perhaps not as important as your post today but the MSM are all over this story and the bloggophile is on this like rats on cheese. At least this would be informative and different.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:46 PM  

  • Ya, what a SHOCK that a political blog would post news about a premier quitting. Totally baffling.

    *eye roll*

    By Blogger Martin, at 7:52 PM  

  • ya, just like 99.9% of the other political blogs

    *yawn*

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:09 PM  

  • Anon, why don't you go and follow the revolution in Egypt? It may not succeed, but it's worth learning about.

    By Blogger Holly Stick, at 8:30 PM  

  • And for some reason you presume I haven't?

    *eye roll*

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:32 PM  

  • Thanks for the post. Good read. (Your first commenter needs a skull transplant. I can do it. I have a snow shovel.)

    By Blogger wordbeeps, at 8:38 PM  

  • A skull transplant. Wow. You must think you're a writer or something.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:42 PM  

  • Indeed a real "a SHOCK that a political blog would post news about a premier quitting. Totally baffling." especially when it is a blog called CalgaryGrit who has regularly followed and graciously updated us on the ins and outs of Alberta politics.

    It was like that awful, so boringly, yawning day a couple of Octobers ago, the day after the federal election, when everybody was writing about the, um, election results. Sooo "yawn", eh Mr Creative Anonymous?

    By Blogger Ted Betts, at 8:46 PM  

  • Funny, I don't recall saying it was shocking. I would presume that it would be fairly difficult to describe a shocking post as boring. You see the two are different. Ah, now I get it ... you don't see that. Explains everything. Next.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:49 PM  

  • If you don't feed the troll, eventually he'll leave...

    By Anonymous The Invisible Hand, at 12:47 AM  

  • What about the news today that Ted Morton was threatening to resign over the budget, and that Stelmach resigned to avoid a public spat?

    Here's what I'm wondering: why would Morton not still resign? Is the budget OK now, because Stelmach is a lame duck?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:34 AM  

  • Audrey Best died? This is terrible news for the separatist movement. It is not everyday that you can find a Yankee darling who flies the friendly skies to come in and be the Eva Peron of the separatist movement. Her lasting legacy for the movement will be to serve as an example to all separatist that in order to be proper pure laine you must marry an American and educate your children in English.

    In other relevant political news for your blog Dan, my friends pet frog died. His name was Kermit and he lived a long and productive life.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:20 PM  

  • Shortly, the West will be led by "Brad Wall and the Premiers". Sounds like an awesome band!

    By Blogger Daniel, at 1:26 PM  

  • Anon 11:34 am - Interesting news about Morton, and not too surprising.

    If I were him, I'd just resign now to focus on the leadership. No need for him to be tied to a deficit budget.

    By Blogger calgarygrit, at 1:27 PM  

  • Gee, and here I thought I was the only blogger posting about the premier quitting... Good post, Grit.

    By Blogger David J. Climenhaga, at 1:46 AM  

  • The reason Stelmach won that many seats is because people like me who normally vote couldn't stomach any of our options. In my riding we had less than 45% of the vote.

    What people should remember is not how many seats Stelmach won, but how many people bothered to care enough about that election. We deserved what we get when we got Ed. That won't happen again in the upcoming election, which is why the Tories realized they had to get rid of him.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:59 PM  

  • Well, I do not really believe this will have success.

    By Anonymous www.cordoba-3d.com, at 8:37 AM  

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