So, the follow-up to that meeting...
Stelmach, Harper promise closer ties
Alberta's political giants meet in Calgary
New Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach said he wants to "build relationships with the federal government and other provinces," following a hastily arranged visit with Prime Minister Stephen Harper at Stelmach's office in the McDougall Centre on Thursday.
Photograph by : Mikael Kjellstrom, Calgary Herald
Jason Fekete and Suzanne Wilton, Calgary Herald
Published: Friday, December 22, 2006
Alberta's two political powerhouses met face-to-face for the first time on Thursday in Calgary, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Premier Ed Stelmach look to build on a federal-provincial relationship that's been frosty in recent years.
The new premier, who is on a goodwill tour of southern Alberta, used a post-meeting news conference to also reach out to Calgary after naming a rural-heavy cabinet last week that gutted the number of city ministers.
Harper and Stelmach's first official tete-a-tete since the premier took office lasted about 25 minutes at Calgary's McDougall Centre. The political leaders touched on several issues during the hastily arranged meeting. One of the topics was Alberta's place in Confederation.
"I want to build relationships with the federal government and other provinces," Stelmach told reporters following the meeting.
"Because I really do feel that a strong Canada makes for better global competitiveness." Harper didn't speak to the media after their chat. However, he said earlier in the day, upon touching down in Calgary with his family aboard a Canadian Forces jet, that he looks forward to building a strong relationship with Stelmach.
"I think it will be great. I really look forward to working with him," Harper said at the airport.
The get-together appeared to be largely unscheduled, after an official in the Prime Minister's Office told the Herald late Wednesday it was unlikely that Harper would find time to meet the new premier, despite being in Calgary at the same time.
Early Thursday, representatives of both Harper and Stelmach informed the media that a meeting would, in fact, take place.
Political observers argued that the familiar feuding between Alberta and Ottawa -- which continued between former premier Ralph Klein and Harper -- would likely subside with the pragmatic Stelmach in the premier's office.
"He's not someone who's going to wage war against Ottawa unless war is waged against him," said David Taras, a political analyst at the University of Calgary. "Stelmach will deal with it in a non-ideological way. He'll be very co-operative."
One of the major confrontational issues, health care, has been removed from the federal-provincial chess board, Taras added, noting Stelmach has no plans to overhaul the system with private care.
Another agitator -- Klein -- is also out of the picture, which should help Alberta avoid a verbal war with the federal government as long as Harper is in power.
"Ralph was very good playing the 'I'm going to get tough against Ottawa' card," Taras said.
They're Alberta-bred politicians, but neither Harper nor Stelmach has visited Calgary much recently. The prime minister has spent most of the year in Ottawa while Parliament is sitting, and Stelmach was in northern Alberta for the vast majority of the leadership race.
"We don't get to spend a lot of time (in Calgary), but we always love it when we can," Harper said.
Stelmach, meanwhile, is looking to reassure southern Albertans he'll govern for the whole province, after analysts suggested he has already alienated Calgary by slashing the number of city ministers from eight to three. He also broke a recent tradition by not appointing a Calgary energy minister.
Further adding fuel to the controversy is rookie cabinet minister Ted Morton, who reportedly told an Okotoks community paper that Calgary-area rural ministers will help keep the city in line.
"Calgary and Edmonton, other cities and rural Alberta," Stelmach stressed, "are all on the same level in terms of trying to find balance with some of the pressures that we all face across the province."
He said he'll spend "a fair amount of time in Calgary" and that his ministers will balance the needs across the province. "They are there for all Albertans. Just exactly what my role is as premier for all Albertans, that's what the expectation is for my ministers," the premier said.
Many of those growth pressures Stelmach referred to were raised during his talk with Harper, including addressing Alberta's escalating homelessness problem, which they agreed to work together on tackling.
The worker shortage and expanding the B.C.-Alberta labour mobility agreement to other provinces to eliminate trade barriers were also on the agenda.
Perhaps most important, Stelmach said he discussed with Harper "how to get in contact with each other over the next number of months as we work toward common goals."