"My successor will be under no obligation to go to the polls in March of 2012 - that was my timeline, and mine alone."Stelmach went on to warn about U.S.-style campaigning, and predicted that "an extreme right-wing party will run as a moderate party based on personality", further mentioning that such a tact would be "at our peril."
Stelmach will bring in a budget this February, and then will step aside "in due course".
This throws the rumoured early election call by the PC's into the realm of the absurd. Very likely, we're looking at a late 2012 election, if not even 2013.
The Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta will have to hold a leadership election, with several current PC MLA's rumoured to be kicking the tires, including perceived front-runner Ted Morton.
Stelmach mentioned specifically that he wants a "fair, fully transparent" leadership selection process.
The details of the race to replace Stelmach as leader will be announced once the PC Party decides on them. In the race to replace Ralph Klein, cabinet ministers who intended to run for the party leadership were required to step aside from cabinet. Ed Stelmach was the first cabinet minister to do so. There is no indication at this time whether this will be the expectation as Ed leaves office.
Whatever you think of the job that Ed Stelmach has done as Premier, or his politics, he deserves our thanks for the countless hours that he has put in over the years in trying, to the best of his ability, to make this province a better place for all of us.
The other parties that make up the Alberta Legislative Assembly are probably just as confused as anyone else right now, and the outcome of the PC leadership race will have a massive impact on those parties. A win by a centrist moderate reformer would give disenfranchised PC's who left for the Alberta Party a reason to consider coming "home". A win by a staunch, rock-ribbed right winger who could stand toe-to-toe with Danielle Smith would seriously damage the Wildrose Alliance's fortunes going forward.
As well, there are (as always) geographical considerations. At present, the only party with a (non-interim)leader hailing from north of Airdrie is the NDP. There are a LOT of votes to be had up there - and yet, Calgary clearly showed its disappointment with its 2 finalists for the 2006 PC leadership - Morton and Jim Dinning - losing to a northern, rural MLA in Stelmach. After so many years of "calling the shots" in the PC Party and Alberta Government between Lougheed and Klein - both Calgary MLA's - the Burg on the Bow didn't much care to see its influence taken away. So those regional considerations will play just as much a factor as the retail politics will - who will look good on camera? Who "looks" like a Premier? Who can handle a media scrum or debate the best? Will the PC cause best be served by another middle-aged, white male?
Tomorrow is yet unwritten, but the reality is that these discussions, and the choice that the PC's ultimately make regarding their next leader, have just fundamentally changed the game - and all bets are off.