Poll shows Stelmach gaining popularity after early nosedive





One year ago today, Ed Stelmach awoke to face his first day as Alberta’s political victor, emerging as the unlikely winner in a leadership battle that nearly tore the provincial Tory party apart at the seams.

For many, he was swept into the premier’s chair as a compromise between two extremes, caught in the middle of an ideological divide fought between Calgary’s Jim Dinning and Ted Morton.

A year later, political observers label his record as a jumbled mess of ideas and actions, hampered by the inheritance of an infrastructure deficit and a personality that translates as “wooden” on camera.

Yet Stelmach has appeared relaxed and unruffled, despite a gut-wrenching energy royalty review and major decisions that saw his every move monitored, studied and criticized.

“I’m actually enjoying this,” he said last week. “A few grey hairs on the temple, but we’ve accomplished so much this year.”

New Democrat critic Ray Martin, who’s sat across from Stelmach in the house for years, said his term as premier has been filled with good instincts and unexpected, terrible decisions.

In the spring, Stelmach launched the province’s first all-party housing task force, he said, but when the group came back with recommendations that the Tories didn’t like — such as temporary rent controls — they made their own decisions anyway.

“They start off in the right direction with some good intentions, but when the recommendations come in to where they don’t like them then they ignore their own advice,” he said.

Keith Brownsey, a political scientist at Calgary’s Mount Royal College, said the Stelmach government still suffers from a “hangover” inherited from Klein’s lack of planning — and it will take more than a spring election to wipe the slate clean.

“As a result, Mr. Stelmach has had to face, in some sense, the antagonism of the voters who are tired of the do-nothing, automatic-pilot Klein government,” he said.

Yet, polling suggests that Stelmach has been able to pull himself out of his earlier political nosedive. The latest public opinion poll, released this weekend, shows that he’s climbed up 42 per cent from a record-low held earlier this fall.

And he appears composed, despite a contentious bill before the legislature that could prove to be the defining moment of his government.

“You believe in your heart that you’re doing this right,” he told reporters last week. “I’ve always said that we’re going to do what’s best for all Albertans and we’ve accomplished a lot, but we still have a lot to do.”