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Outgoing Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach. (John Ulan/The Canadian Press/John Ulan/The Canadian Press)
Outgoing Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach. (John Ulan/The Canadian Press/John Ulan/The Canadian Press)

Letter from Alberta

Ed Stelmach's long goodbye draws to a close Add to ...

The end is nigh for Ed Stelmach, who is set to exit Question Period for the final time as Alberta's Premier on Thursday, one day after his 60th birthday.

Ending the spring legislative session will allow the Progressive Conservative government to finally duck repeated attacks - the Liberals on a health scandal, the right-leaning Wildrose Alliance on land rights, the New Democrats on a controversy over power lines - that have dogged it through the winter and spring.

In leaving, Mr. Stelmach will also trigger a leadership race that has been bubbling for the three months since he made it known he'd vacate his chair. A sixth hopeful, former energy minister Rick Orman, will join the widening field this week.

With the shortened session of a premier on his way out, Mr. Stelmach's opponents have painted him as running scared. Late last month, one opposition member called him a "chicken" in the house, while Liberal Leader David Swann suggested Mr. Stelmach didn't have "the balls" to call a health inquiry.

The Premier was rushed to the door by many within and outside his party. However, his staff have bristled at the suggestion that he has been a lame duck. Mr. Stelmach has not gone quietly. Instead, he's recently wrapped up a pair of initiatives that could one day be seen as the hallmarks of his five-year tenure as Premier.

One such achievement is the release of the draft development plan for the oil sands' lower Athabasca River basin, the first of seven regional watershed plans the province is producing for its watersheds. They are controversial - among other things, the Athabasca plan effectively nullifies several oil-sands leases - but some hail them as long-needed.

For decades, the province has approved development with no attention paid to cumulative environmental effect. The plans change that.

But perhaps Mr. Stelmach's final achievement as Premier came last week, when he stood with former federal cabinet minister David Emerson to release recommendations to overhaul Alberta's economy into a more sustainable model.

Mr. Emerson chaired the Premier's Council for Economic Strategy, which also included former Bank of Canada governor David Dodge, former Liberal deputy prime minister Anne McLellan, and several industry leaders and academics.

The panel recommended what it admitted would be politically unpopular - the province must eventually raise taxes, and funnel its energy royalties away from general revenue and toward sustainable development.

It likened the province's current strategy, of funding spending increases with non-renewable-resource royalties, as selling off bits of the family farm to pay for groceries.

Each initiative contains substantial proposals that might shape the province for decades to come.

However, there are many questions Mr. Stelmach's government didn't answer during this brief session - about health, land laws and power lines, all raised by the opposition.

Those answers, as well as the fate of seven regional plans and Mr. Emerson's report, are all questions that hang over Mr. Stelmach's government during his final week and birthday celebration.

Mr. Stelmach has been no lame duck, but he leaves a legacy half-finished. Its fate will rest with his successor.

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