The fact that Ed Stelmach would resign as Alberta Premier is unsurprising. The Progressive Conservative dynasty has endured in part because of its ruthless capacity to dispense with mediocre performers - witness Don Getty - and Mr. Stelmach is surely that.
What is odd, however, is the timing of his statement, prior to a critical budget needed to restore fiscal propriety after years of profligate spending, coupled with Mr. Stelmach's evocation of sinister "U.S.-style negative, attack politics ... directed at me personally" as the reason for his pre-emptive announcement.
In his haste, Mr. Stelmach failed to set out a clear timetable for his departure. In fact, he has not resigned. He has only indicated his intention to resign before an election more than two years away. Like much else about his government, the announcement itself was a half-measure, an example of the indecisiveness so often attributed to him.
The writing has been on the wall for Mr. Stelmach. He is an honourable, if uncharismatic man, who has been plagued by perceptions of managerial bumbling. The leadership question, and a generalized malaise after four decades in office, have left Alberta's Progressive Conservatives more politically vulnerable today than at perhaps any time since they swept to power under Peter Lougheed in 1971.
In December, the Wildrose Alliance, a right-wing group that has made hay of Mr. Stelmach's mishandling of health and energy, and more generally with his government's moderation, achieved a statistical dead heat in the polls. The emergence of another upstart, the centrist Alberta Party, driven in part by Chima Nkemdirim, former campaign manager and now chief of staff to Calgary's popular new mayor, Naheed Nenshi, has not helped Tory prospects.
It is unlikely his announcement on Tuesday will provide immediate relief for the Tories. That can only come with the election of a new leader, possibly Ted Morton, the province's Finance Minister, a right-winger who would confound Wildrose Alliance supporters. Until then, as Mr. Stelmach put it, "I will continue to govern to fulfill commitments I made in the last general election." That's welcome news for the "extreme-right" practitioners of "U.S-style wedge politics" he warned on Tuesday.
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