Personally, I think being a politician has to be one of the most challenging jobs around. I imagine it to be a bit like living in a cross between the movies Groundhog Day and Mean Girls, like having to re-live a high school popularity contest over and over and over again. Upon his resignation on Jan. 25, Premier Ed Stelmach left us with some very wise words, warning Albertans about the risks of political campaigns that focus on personality and not on issues.
ìThere is a profound danger that the next election campaign will focus on personality and U.S.-style negative attack politics that is directed at me personally,î Stelmach has been quoted as saying. ìThe danger is that it could allow for an extreme right party to disguise itself as a moderate party by focusing on personality ñ on me. This type of U.S. wedge-style politics is coming into Canada and it comes at our peril. Albertans deserve to have a better level of public debate on our policy options.î
After cowboy Klein resigned in 2006, the big guns from Calgary, Ted Morton and Jim Dinning, took aim at each other with bullets flying wildly, but it was underdog Stelmach that emerged from the dust with a grin as big as a chipmunk.
After the embarrassing antics of Klein, Stelmach brought a quiet dignity back to the office of the premier. On several occasions, Stelmach brought forward sensible policy initiatives that were often lost in attempts to appease the right wing extremists in the party. For example, the oil and gas royalty review was long overdue and it seemed as though we finally had someone who could stand up to the powerful companies that destroy our land and milk our resources. However, the global economic downslide gave strength to the fear-mongering of the wealthy corporations and Stelmach, the moderate, compromised.
Dismantling of the rural health boards in favour of one centralized system had potential to make the entire system more efficient, but the unfortunate choice of arrogant and insensitive Stephen Duckett as CEO, along with his cronies, resulted in an absolute mess. By the time the Alberta government finally put pressure on Alberta Health Services to get rid of Duckett, it was a case of too little, too late.
Stelmach's attempt to amend the human rights legislation, to finally recognize the legal equality of gay and lesbian Albertans and move the province into the 21st century once again became an embarrassment when, to appease the right wing extremists, the government tried to include ìparental rightsî to pull their children from any classroom that might discuss the topic of sexuality.
In the end, Stelmach's attempts to unite the party by appeasing and compromising didn't work. Now we will be in for a new Wild West leadership race. I can't help but wonder if our own MLA Ray Danyluk will toss his cap into the ring. He has held two major portfolios: Municipal Affairs and Infrastructure. Like Stelmach, he too would be a long shot but might be big enough to face the right wing bullies and emerge strong. I would prefer his leadership to the current favorite Ted Morton.
Morton is the fiscal conservative's Conservative and the former finance minister. He is from Calgary and is in the best position ideologically to face the challenge of the Wildrose Alliance. If he wins, get ready to face deep cuts to programs thoughout the province, because Alberta will be all about profits. I fear that everyday Albertans, the farmers, the small business owners and workers are going to get steamrolled under Morton.
Heed the warning and in the next election, vote for those with the best policy, not the strongest personality!
- St. Paul Journal, a Great West newspaper