I had been agonizing over whether or not to resume blogging. There was so much going on in Alberta's political landscape that I simply couldn't help myself from participating more actively online. I even had an idea for an inaugural post on the topic of political labels and why they aren't as dastardly as some parties (or one, anyway) would have you believe.
And then yesterday happened.
The weeks and months ahead will undoubtedly be full of analysis, speculation, and posturing when it comes to the changing of the guard within the PC Party of Alberta. I hope I can be a helpful contributor to those debates as they move forward. But this is still a bit of a strange period for those of us the PC party as we adjust to the news of Ed Stelmach's departure. For now, I can't help but share some personal reflections on Alberta's 13th Premier.
I had a PC membership card in my wallet before I had a Driver's License and have had the good fortune to get to know most of those who served in the PC caucus since the late 90s. The first two Tory MLAs I met after my own were the late Dave Broda, then MLA for Redwater, and Ed Stelmach, then MLA for Vegreville-Viking and Minister of Infrastructure. I was seated at a table with these two gentlemen and their wives at my very first function as a member of the PC Youth. Although there was a room full of people far more important than I, they made a point of taking the time to chat to this obviously-keen young fellow. It was the kind of first impression that every politician should strive to make.
A few years later, I remember during the election of 2001 a couple of us young PCs used our reading week break to tour across the northern Alberta constituencies and help our MLAs/candidates for a half-day or so on each stop. The final stop of day one was Vegreville where we'd be going door knocking with Ed Stelmach. We were looking forward to it. Two of us, another young PC from Vegreville-Viking, and Ed. The only problem was that the only one of us who had a vehicle with more than two seats was the young local volunteer. So there we were, three linebacker-sized youth and the Infrastructure Minister piled into an early 90s model 2-door Ford Escort. There is nothing policy-wise that stands out in my mind from that night, but I will never forget trying to get out of the back seat of that damned Ford and having to eventually tuck my legs in, roll onto the pavement, stand up, and dust off. Ed has assured me that he won't ever forget that ridiculous sight, either.
Over the years I became more and more involved with the party, I often ran across Ed Stelmach at functions across Alberta. I enjoyed the opportunity to chat with him, partly because the portfolios he held (Infrastructure, Transportation, Intergovernmental Affairs) were areas of policy that I was interested in, and partly because he was just such a good guy to chat with one-on-one.
I still remember attending a meeting of PC Association in Calgary years ago where Ed Stelmach was the guest speaker. I caught up with him in the parking lot after the event and talked about overpasses, freeways, and the need to beef up Highway 63 (old habits die hard) until long after the parking lot had cleared out. Not wanting to monopolize much more of his time, I thanked him for the chat and wished him a safe flight back to Edmonton. He chuckled at me, pointed at his Buick, and said he wasn't flying... the Transportation Minister should drive the highways he's responsible for. It was classic Ed Stelmach.
Fast forward again to a cold night in early December 2006. I was at the hangar in Edmonton where Alberta's new Premier would be announced. Those who read this blog in those days knew I was a staunch Jim Dinning supporter and was happy to be there to help with the final push. I remember watching the results come in, riding-by-riding, and trying to do some guesstimating based on the returns from strongholds for each of the three final contestants. With about a dozen constituencies from across the province in, I knew what was to come. There wouldn't be enough Dinning votes to take it on the first ballot, and there was no way that Dinning would be the second choice of Ted Morton voters. Ed Stelmach was going to be Alberta's next Premier. Casually walking over to the Stelmach side of the room, I found Ed's eldest son Les (who is every bit the gentleman that his father is) and quietly congratulated him on his father's win. It wasn't my guy, but it was a good and decent guy and that was enough for me.
Over the next four years, we all watched as Ed Stelmach tried to put his own stamp on the way government, and the PC Party, were run. The shortcomings of some of those efforts are well-known and will be discussed in the coming months as Alberta searches for a new Premier (and don't worry - I'll be frank enough to talk about them, too). But there were some good things that shouldn't be overlooked.
On the government side, I think the Premier's efforts to help get less-fortunate Albertans into stable, permanent housing will have a long-lasting effect on both our society and our economy. From a party perspective, its encouraging that we're starting to see the development of a more professional and multi-faceted campaign strategy for the party. Hopefully the days of a Kleinfeld-esque campaign about nothing and using only old methods of voter contact, and only sparingly, are over within the PC Party. They must be if we are to continue in the current political climate in Alberta. I hope the next Leader continues to champion both of these important initiatives.
In the meantime, I guess what I've been trying to say as I've been jotting down some of my memories of Ed Stelmach is pretty simple.
For 25 years of public service... for sharing yourself with Albertans when your family would have gladly had you home... for trying, even if not always succeeding, to do the right thing... for taking the time to talk to "the little guy" in thousands of venues across Alberta... for, difficult as it was, falling on your own sword.. and above all, for being yourself...