Stelmach And Swann's Last Hurrahs


Last week, the spring session of the Alberta legislature limped to a close.  It was, as is so often the case in Alberta, far too brief and utterly uninspired. The MLAs have gone home for the summer to fill up their time with community barbecues and local fairs.


This summer, however, will be different. Members of the Progressive Conservative and Alberta Liberal parties will be preoccupied with choosing new leaders. When the legislature reconvenes in the fall, Alberta politics will have a whole different look, with both a new premier and a new leader of the Opposition.


Last Thursday in the legislature, the raucous session ended on an entirely different tone, with members of all parties heaping praise on outgoing leaders, Premier Ed Stelmach and Liberal Leader David Swann. And say what you like about their politics, or their successes and/or failures as leaders, but there is no denying that both men deserved all of the praise that came their way.


Both Stelmach and Swann are honourable men, in politics for all the right reasons. They are the kind of people that we are lucky to have in Alberta politics.  And yet, it’s fair to say that neither was particularly well suited to leadership.


Swann is a man of deep, unwavering principles. As a champion of health care in Alberta, Swann was in his element defending our public health system. He also is a committed environmentalist, and a genuine humanitarian. But the mantel of leadership never seemed to rest easy on his shoulders. When he won the leadership, he didn’t really seem to know what he wanted to do with it. He leaves the Alberta Liberal Party in the best financial shape is has been in for years, but also further away from the dream of electoral victory than at any time in decades. 


Ed Stelmach is an even more curious leader. A low-key politician, Stelmach capably held a number of cabinet positions in the Ralph Klein government, never making waves or generating controversy. His entry into the PC leadership race was a surprise, and his victory as  compromise candidate even more so. His massive victory in the 2008 election was the final great surprise from Ed Stelmach.


A full analysis of Stelmach’s brief reign is best left for another time. Indeed, much of what Stelmach attempted to accomplish won’t come to fruition until years after he has left office. For a man who was premier for a short time, he attempted a number of major initiatives that could have long-term consequences for Alberta. His changes to property rights legislation will give the Wildrose Alliance ammunition to spare for the next election. His government has also introduced changes to our electrical system that wil either insure our electrical supply for years to come, or cost us billions for an overbuilt system. But Stelmach’s integrity was never in question, nor could you question his desire to make Alberta a better place. But his leadership style was diffident. The Alberta PC party demands strong leadership in any style, whether it’s sophisticated like Peter Lougheed’s or bare knuckled like Ralph Klein’s. In Stelmach, they had a mild-mannered nice guy, hardly the kind of inspiring leadership Alberta demands.


  Regardless of their successes or failures, David Swann and Ed Stelmach deserve thanks from Albertans. Neither was entirely comfortable, or successful, as a leader. But they stepped up to the plate in the challenging game of politics, and for that, they deserve thanks.


All Content Copyright © SEE Magazine 2008 About Us Contact Us Privacy Policy Terms of Use Contest Disclaimer