Ed Stelmach has been sworn in as the13thpremier of Alberta, declaring it was "one of the most humbling days" of his life as he replacedretiring premier Ralph Klein.
Stelmach was sworn in by Lt.-Gov. Norman Kwong in a public ceremony on the steps of the legislature in Edmonton Thursday.
"Alberta is in anenviable position," Stelmach said. "We have the means to build a strong province and future."
Stelmach takes the reins of Alberta's governmentat a time of multibillion-dollar surpluses andno provincial debt, but plenty of issues to deal with when it comes to managing the province's explosivegrowth.
Born and raised in Alberta, the 55-year-old farmer and father of four is the descendent of Ukrainian settlers.
Aformer intergovernmental affairs minister from the riding of Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, Stelmachcame from behind to win the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative party on Dec. 2.
Klein, who had been Alberta'spremier since 1992,was on hand Thursday to turn over his officeto Stelmach.
"I have the greatest respect for my predecessor, Ralph Klein," Stelmach told thegathered crowd."For all that he has done for me as a member of his team, for the government, and for all Albertans."
The soft-spokenpolitician sometimes called "Honest Ed" promised accountability and honesty in government.
"What Albertans can expect from me is to keep my word and to keep an open mind. AndI promise an open, inclusive Alberta government that puts Albertans first. A government for all Albertans, both urban and rural, young and old, north and south," he said.
Cabinet trimmed by 6
On Wednesday, Stelmach announced he was reducing the number of cabinet positions by six and appointing a panel to review oilsands royalties.
Stelmach merged some responsibilities in order to trim his cabinet from 24 to 18 MLAs, following through on a campaign promise.
The ministries of gaming, aboriginal affairs and science are gone, with their duties merged into other departments.
The Treasury Board Secretariat, a new department, will bring together a number of responsibilities, mostly having to do with how the government spends money.
Rethinking oilsands royalties
Stelmach also plans to set up formal public hearings to see whether the province is getting enough royalty money from its oilsands.
He will appoint a panel of people unconnected with government to travel the province to gather opinions and information.
Stelmach said that one of the most common concerns he heardon the campaign trailwas that Albertans were not getting enough money for their resources.
Companies pay one per cent of their profits to the provinceuntil they recover the cost of the project. After that, the royalty rises to 25 per cent.
Greg Stringham, a vice-president with the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, says oilsands companies support the hearings as an opportunity to "talk about how the system works."
"Most people don't realize there's almost $4 billion coming from the oilsands royalties system right now," he said, a number that includes lease payments to the province.
Provincial Liberal Leader Kevin Taft said he doesn't sense much of a shift in direction under Stelmach, despite Wednesday's announcements.
"It feels like we're going to have more of the same. Even the same language that we've had from this government for a long time, and I guess that's to be expected from a premier who sat in cabinet for so many years and had such a low profile."