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This just in! Alberta's Premier Stelmach pulls the plug -- what's next?

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Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach

OK, the world as we know it has ended. Get ready to get used to a new world as we'll know it soon.

After an inauspicious 2010, and a horrible start to 2011, Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach has taken the traditional Canadian walk in the snow, which is as plentiful in Edmonton right now as it was in Ottawa in 1982, and announced he won't run again as Alberta premier or anything else.

The reason was pretty much the same as in Ottawa in 1982, too. Back then, the polls said that if prime minister Pierre Trudeau remained at the helm of the Liberal Party, it would go down to certain and crushing defeat.

Does anyone want to guess what the Alberta Conservatives' private polls have been telling them about Stelmach's prospects?

Stelmach and his Tory insiders played it pretty close to their vests yesterday while the Alberta Party was getting all the headlines. It wasn't until a few minutes before his 11:30 a.m. news conference today that anyone knew what was really coming down the pike.

But you can count on it that, behind the scenes, there were similarities to another dramatic Canadian political departure of more recent vintage, that of B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell, who announced his resignation last November.

We know that Campbell had been suffering horrible, single-digit approval ratings in the polls and was facing a rebellion among his cabinet ministers. It's hard to imagine that it was very similar circumstances that faced Premier Stelmach.

The details will emerge in time, of course, but it is reasonable to assume that Stelmach was delivered an ultimatum by his fellow Conservative MLAs: Go now with dignity, or go soon without any at all!

So he stood up this morning with his wife Marie at his side and went over the side with dignity.

At any rate, Stelmach chose the same politically savvy departure as Campbell -- he will remain in office until a replacement is found at a party convention. Alberta's next premier will get to decide when to pull the plug on the Legislature for a provincial election.

As of this moment, the leading candidates to replace him are uber-rightist Finance Minister Ted Morton, who has been offered a reprieve from certain defeat at the hands of Wildrose Alliance Leader Danielle Smith by this turn of events, and centrist Deputy Premier Doug Horner, who occupies what must be the last safe Tory seat in Alberta.

Most Alberta punters are betting on Morton, but shrewd observers will not rule out the low-key Horner.

More to come… Bet on it!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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