Stelmach's demise exemplifies lack of respect for politicians



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February 7, 2011

Premier Ed Stelmach's announcement of his decision not to seek re-election was an action typical of the man — to achieve what he believed is right, he sacrificed himself. Stelmach wanted the upcoming budget to meet infrastructure needs and provide jobs for Albertans. He would not accept fiscal masochism obsessed with the bottom line. In the odd logic of that political moment, Stelmach saw that the only way he could get the budget through his caucus was to resign.

One might disagree strongly with the Stelmach government's policies and lack of policies, one might disagree with his rigidity in dealing with caucus dissidents, but one should not deny that Ed Stelmach is a man of principle and decency. His political career was one of service, not self-seeking.

It was Stelmach's fate to have been determined to be weak. Perhaps that was because of his extraordinary decency or perhaps it was because he became leader of his party as everyone's second choice. Whatever it was, when the carnivores detect weakness, they soon move in for the kill.

Stelmach likely took more personal abuse than any Alberta politician in recent memory. The amount of vitriol directed his way is inexplicable. It's true that he attempted - and failed - to modestly improve the royalty regime to begin to recognize that Albertans actually own the resources. His efforts drew a mighty response from the powerful petroleum industry which believes God put oil and gas in the ground for the benefit of its shareholders.

Catholics and Ukrainians are, of course, aware that Stelmach was the first of our number to become premier. He wasn't elected because he was Catholic or Ukrainian - although the Ukrainians sure did support him. Nor did his policies line up noticeably with Catholic teaching on social and moral issues. But he did support efforts to house the homeless and he did support Catholic education.

Moreover, he is a devout man who sings in the church choir and helps look after its cemetery. Such commitments say a lot. If his main goal was to climb the political ladder, he wouldn't have wasted time networking in the graveyard.

"Politicians generally have lost a lot of respect," he told the WCR in a 2007 interview. "We have to change the way politics is done."

Four years as premier have convinced him it won't happen soon. In stepping down, he said, "There 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."

That must be deeply disappointing to Stelmach. "One of the things that my faith has really taught me is to respect others, especially the people that work for you," he told the WCR. Unfortunately, as premier, Stelmach never received the respect he freely gave to others.