Stelmach’s quagmire

Bev Reuteman is among a growing number of Albertans facing hard times. And the controller at an oil services company in Drayton Valley, 100 kilometres southwest of Edmonton, is pointing a finger of blame at Premier Ed Stelmach.

Premier Ed Stelmach raises his fist in victory after hearing the results from the leadership review at the Progressive Conservative Annual General Meeting

Premier Ed Stelmach raises his fist in victory after hearing the results from the leadership review at the Progressive Conservative Annual General Meeting

DRAYTON VALLEY — Bev Reuteman is among a growing number of Albertans facing hard times.

And the controller at an oil services company in Drayton Valley, 100 kilometres southwest of Edmonton, is pointing a finger of blame at Premier Ed Stelmach.

“It’s been terrible in Drayton Valley for the last year,” Reuteman said from behind her desk. “I can tell you that I’ve worked in the oilfield for 25 years now and it’s the worst I’ve ever seen it.”

Many of the young people in her community are also feeling the pinch.

“I know lots of students that aren’t actually back in school because they didn’t get a job here in the summer,” she said. “I think it’s Stelmach. He had big shoes to fill. Everybody compares him to Ralph Klein and he’s just not there.”

Alberta’s busted oil boom and a bleak rural economy are pushing Stelmach into a political quagmire. He took over from Klein three years ago and things looked good for awhile as the oil boom reached its zenith.

Then everything began to slide all at once. Energy prices plummeted. The recession hit. The beef and pork industries bottomed out. Alberta lost its edge as the economic envy of Canada.

Now the province is hurting.

Rather than ride out the storm, Stelmach continued pushing an ambitious agenda that included contentious new energy royalties, hundreds of hospital bed closures, health-care job cuts and legislation to clear the way for billions of dollars in new power lines that will boost utility rates for consumers.

Those decisions have come at a price for his Progressive Conservatives. Growing discontent has pushed the upstart Wildrose Alliance, a further-right party that holds only one seat in the legislature, to the top of at least one poll. Another cited Stelmach as Canada’s least popular premier.

Reuteman said she joined the Wildrose Alliance a few weeks ago.

All of this seems out of context for a government holding 70 of 83 seats. And in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press, there were no signs the premier plans on backing down.

“Yes, individually Albertans are hurting,” he said. “But collectively, as a province, we’re in good standing.

“Are there issues? Definitely. Some of them are tied to the economy and some are tied to the changes we’re bringing about. But these are all changes that are necessary for long-term future prosperity.”

Many Albertans, however, are upset, especially in rural areas, which have always been a bedrock of Tory support.

David Chapman saw his retirement dreams evaporate recently when he was forced to sell all of his cattle.

“Those cattle were me and my wife’s retirement plan and they’re gone now. My wife’s working a job and I’m hauling logs,” he said. “That’s our retirement now.”

But Chapman’s frustration is not over the collapsing beef industry. He’s angry about plans to cut hundreds of hospital beds across Alberta.

“If we don’t have our health care, then we’ve got nothing,” he said. “They’ve shut down 350 beds on the people that need help, like the handicapped.”

Rural politicians have also started grumbling about Stelmach. Harlan Cahoon, a councillor in Cardston, south of Calgary, said he’s seeing signs of political change.

“I think Wildrose is coming on,” Cahoon said. “I think there’s quite a bit of discontent throughout the whole province, not just in our area.”

Even one of Stelmach’s most loyal supporters frankly admits that the Tory party is in trouble. Finance Minister Iris Evans recenlty conceded that the party is losing support.

“People thought things would be better under a new leader,” Evans told The Canadian Press. “But I don’t think the diehard Tories will stay with the Wildrose.”

Stelmach is trying to put the best face on recent poll results.

“I’ve been much lower before,” he said. “The party was about 12 per cent in the polls in December of 1992.”

He is trying to pull his Tories out of a tailspin with a new communications strategy, a cabinet shuffle early in the new year and changes to his inner circle of advisers. His senior communications director has already announced that he is stepping aside.

The premier has also been trying to harness Twitter and YouTube to re-brand himself.He posted five videos recently with responses to questions posted on his Ask Premier Ed site.

As for the Alberta’s biggest asset, Stelmach says the government is “sorting out” issues with the energy industry.

“We’ve seen some of the lowest gas prices in recent years. There’s a lot of people that were laid off.”

The premier also points out that he got 77 per cent support when Tory members held a mandatory leadership review vote in November.

And there still appear to be pockets of strong support for the premier, especially on his home turf.

Daniel Warawa is deputy reeve of Lamont County, where the premier lives on a small farm.

He said Wildrose is simply “a blip on the radar.”

“The government has to make some tough decisions,” he said.

“Are they addressing them to everybody’s satisfaction? Probably not.”

“It’s the same as when Ralph Klein was in power.”

The rapid rise of the Wildrose Alliance has been startling, especially considering the party has only one seat after an upset victory in a Calgary byelection in the fall.

But the poll numbers have climbed steadily since Danielle Smith was chosen party leader a few weeks later.

Smith said Stelmach simply hasn’t show that he has a workable plan for Alberta, so a growing number of voters are looking for an alternative.

“He’s made the wrong decisions and he’s been unwilling to change course, and that’s left an imprint on his leadership. We’ve seen parties come out of nowhere and sweep an incumbent government out of power.”

To make matters worse, a breakaway group is now forming made up left-leaning Conservatives and disaffected Liberals. They’re calling the movement “Reboot Alberta.”

But Stelmach still has two years before the next election. He shrugs off any suggestion that he would ever step aside before then.

The premier also appears to be growing weary of people blaming him for the economic slump and the party’s slide in the polls.

“If it’s that bad in Alberta, why is it that we’ve had a 62,000 net migration of people at some of the worst times in our economy?” he asked, citing figures from July 2008 to July 2009.

“So that sends me a message that we’re still a beacon of hope and a beacon of prosperity.”

But that number could be changing.

A Statistic Canada third-quarter population estimate released last week showed that, while Alberta’s population continues to grow faster than the national average, more people left Alberta for other provinces than moved in.

It’s the first time that has happened since 1994.

Just Posted

Red Deer College has been upgrading roofing, mechanical control systems, and lighting with $13 million in capital maintenance funding from the province. (Photo by Advocate staff)
$13 million in maintenance work underway at Red Deer College

Projects improve teaching, learning, and working spaces

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau waits to take his seat at the EU-Canada Summit Monday June 14, 2021 in Brussels, Belgium. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau to visit Pfizer on final day of international pandemic trip, begin quarantine

WTO looks at making it easier for developing countries to import expertise, equipment and ingredients for vaccines

Houses under construction in Toronto on Friday, June 26, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy
CMHC says annual pace of housing starts rose 3.2 per cent in May compared with April

Starts for apartments, condos and other multiple-unit housing projects rose

FILE - In this Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2013 file photo, customers leave an IKEA store in Plaisir, west of Paris. A French court has ordered home furnishings giant Ikea to pay more than $1.2 million in fines and damages Tuesday, June 15, 2021 over a campaign to spy on union representatives. (AP Photo/Remy de la Mauviniere, FIle)
Ikea fined $1.3 million over spying campaign in France

Convicted of receiving personal data obtained through fraudulent means in a habitual way

In this undated file photo released by the Taiwan Ministry of Defense, a Chinese PLA J-16 fighter jet flies in an undisclosed location. China sent a record 28 fighter jets, 14 of them J-16s, towards the self-ruled island of Taiwan on Tuesday, June 15, 2021, the island’s defense ministry said, the largest such display of force since China started flying planes towards the island last year. (Taiwan Ministry of Defense via AP)
China sends record 28 fighter jets toward Taiwan

Since last year, China has been flying fighter jets toward the island almost daily

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Opinion
Opinion: Governments should come together to collaborate paid sick leave in Canada

If we let our guard down, COVID-19 is highly transmissible and will… Continue reading

Finnish players celebrate with their fans after the Euro 2020 soccer championship group B match between Denmark and Finland at Parken stadium in Copenhagen, Denmark, Saturday, June 12, 2021. Finland won 1-0. (Friedemann Vogel/Pool via AP)
Finland plays Russia with Euro 2020 knockout stage in reach

Finns played in their first ever game at a major soccer tournament

Scotland’s Allan Dell (1) is tackled by Canada’s Matt Heaton (7) and Lucas Rumball (6) during first half action of men’s international rugby in Edmonton, Alta., on June 9, 2018. Heaton, of Rugby ATL, Ben LeSage and Lucas Rumball, both of the Toronto Arrows, will co-captain Canada next month for rugby test matches in Wales and England. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Canada names 30-man roster for July rugby internationals against Wales, England

July test marks the first games for Canadian men since October 2019 at the Rugby World Cup

Montreal’s Deanna Bowen, seen in an undated handout photo, has won the $50,000 annual Scotiabank Photography Award. Award organizers say Bowen’s family history has been a central part of her work since the early 1990s. She’s descended from Alabama and Kentucky-born Black Prairie pioneer families from the central Alberta communities of Amber Valley and Campsie. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Courtesy of the artist
Montreal’s Deanna Bowen wins $50,000 Scotiabank Photography Award

Bowen to receive solo exhibition at 2022 Scotiabank Contact Photography Festival

Treena Mielke
Montreal Canadiens goaltender Carey Price (31) blocks a shot by Vegas Golden Knights left wing William Carrier (28) during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup semifinal playoff series Monday in Las Vegas. (Photo by The Associated Press)
Canadiens take 4-1 loss to Vegas Golden Knights in Stanley Cup semifinal opener

Golden Knights 4 Canadiens 1 (Las Vegas leads series 1-0) LAS VEGAS… Continue reading

Philadelphia 76ers' coach Doc Rivers yells to his players during the first half of Game 4 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks, Monday, June 14, 2021, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Young leads Hawks’ rally past Sixers with Embiid hurting

Hawks 103 76ers 100 ATLANTA — Trae Young overcame a cold start… Continue reading

Most Read