Ed Stelmach says he won't seek re-election as Alberta premier, while warning of the rise of "U.S.-style negative attack politics" that focus on personality rather than on issues.
Stelmach, who replaced Ralph Klein as Alberta Conservative Party leader in December 2006, revealed his intentions at the legislature Tuesday morning, and said he would announce his actual departure date in the near future.
"Upon much reflection and consultation with family and close friends, I have determined that after 25 years of public service, I am not prepared to serve another full term as premier," Stelmach said.
"Therefore, I have decided to announce today I will not be running as a candidate in the next general election. There is no doubt that my decision today will come as a shock to many and a disappointment to my friends and Albertans."
The news surprised Conservative Party members such as Calgary MLA and Culture and Community Spirit Minister Lindsay Blackett.
"There was no indication from anybody in our caucus or anybody in his office and I haven't heard any discussion about him not seeking re-election," he said. "Nothing to the contrary other than the fact he was suppose to be leading us through the next election in 2012."
Stelmach gave no clear indication of why he was stepping down and did not take questions from reporters..
"He obviously has made a decision that in his opinion was the right decision for Alberta," Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said. "He put Alberta and Albertans ahead of himself and his own ego."
Stelmach recently backed away from a commitment to put up a balanced budget in 2012, a decision that angered some in the Tory caucus, who want spending cuts.
Lukaszuk admits there have been tough discussions about the budget but said Stelmach had the support of the majority of caucus.
But Alberta Liberal Party Leader David Swann believes Stelmach was pushed out.
"I call this a coup coming from those within the party that are disenchanted with him and see their chances in an election decimated over the last while with his failure to make good decisions in the public interest," Swann said.
Stelmach takes swipe at Wildrose
Stelmach was a surprising winner in the leadership race to replace the popular Klein. He won a landslide election in 2008.
However the election saw the lowest turnout in Alberta history. Since then his numbers have sagged in almost every poll as the upstart Wildrose Alliance steadily gained strength.
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith was no less partisan following Stelmach's remarks.
"What we're seeing is that the government is in complete disarray and I think we're also seeing that it won't make a difference if the head of the party steps down," Smith said.
"I would wish that the 24 cabinet ministers, who've been complicit in all of the terrible decisions that have been made in the last number of years, would also step down."
During his statement, Stelmach, who was first elected to the provincial legislature in 1993, took a swipe at the Wildrose Alliance.
"There is a profound danger that the next election campaign will focus on personality and U.S.-style negative attack politics that … [would be] directed at me personally," he said.
"The danger is that it could allow for an extreme right party to disguise itself as a moderate party by focusing on personality — on me personally. This type of U.S.-style wedge politics is coming into Canada, and it comes at our peril," he said.
But Smith rejected any suggestion her party was the focus of Stelmach's remarks.
"If you look at the way we've conducted ourselves as a party, we have stayed completely focused on the issues and we intend to continue staying focused on the issues," she said.
"I think that's what Albertans want to see. They don't want to see a party or a province that's going to get pulled into the politics of personal destruction."
Stelmach's successor has until March 2013 to call an election. A leadership race will be triggered once Stelmach formally submits his resignation.
Alberta Finance Minister Ted Morton and former federal environment minister Jim Prentice are considered by some to be contenders to replace Stelmach.
Edmonton, Calgary mayors complimentary
Edmonton Mayor Stephen Mandel said he was shocked and disappointed by the announcement.
"I think Ed Stelmach has been a great premier for the province of Alberta. We had a great relationship, him and myself, and great respect for his vision and ability to try and lead the province," Mandel said.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi was equally complimentary towards Stelmach.
"This man is the epitome of a public servant for 25 years," Nenshi said. "He's put the community ahead of himself and he's worked for the betterment of the community and we would be a great province if there were more Ed Stelmachs."
Provincial NDP Leader Brian Mason thanked Stelmach for his contribution to the province.
"He's been a very successful person from very humble origins," he said.
Mason said he suspected Stelmach's departure was prompted by the decline in his personal popularity in the polls.
He said Stelmach was caught between people who want cuts and a balanced budget and those who want the government to maintain public services.
In a statement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper called Stelmach "a hard-working and loyal advocate of Alberta and its people" and wished him well in his future endeavours.
"I have worked with the premier over the past five years to take on the challenges and responsibilities of stimulating the economy, protecting jobs and countering the effects of the worst recession since the Second World War," Harper said.
"Whether at home or abroad, Premier Stelmach has worked tirelessly to promote Alberta as a destination for newcomers and new businesses."