“I’m proud of a number of things, but first and foremost is the diversity of this Legislature, the people coming here from different backgrounds, different cultures, different colours, different countries. It speaks well for Alberta. Quite frankly, it is one of our greatest strengths.”
Ed Stelmach of Andrew has lived a life of service to Albertans. He has done so humbly, honestly, with integrity and dignity. While some Albertans may only know Ed through his time as Premier of the province, his record of public service spans well before and after his time in the Legislature. Albertans have reaped the rewards of his service for decades and will continue to do so for generations to come.
Edward Michael Stelmach was born on May 11, 1951, in Lamont, Alberta, the youngest of five children, and was raised on a farm near Andrew. The grandson of Ukrainian farm immigrants who sought a better life and opportunity in a new land, his first language was Ukrainian. He did not learn English until he attended grade school.
An accident on the first day of Grade 1 resulted in Ed badly breaking his leg, an injury that required hospitalization. The care he received at Sister Servants of Mary Immaculate Hospital in Mundare contributed significantly to his appreciation for faith-based community health care. The nuns who served at the hospital treated the whole person – body, mind and soul – remembers Ed. They did more than care for his leg. They also tutored him in English and math, enlisting the other patients in the ward to work with him on his studies. Looking back, Ed says that his time in the hospital taught him the value of volunteerism and community.
Inspired by his social studies teacher Marshall Krywaniuk, Ed developed an appreciation for world history and its impact on current events. After graduating from high school, he attended the University of Alberta with the intention of becoming a lawyer. He married his high school sweetheart and fellow University of Alberta student Marie Warshawski in 1973. That same year, his oldest brother Victor passed away suddenly. Ed and Marie decided to leave Edmonton and return to the original Stelmach family homestead to operate the farm, where they raised their family.
Ed has always been ready and willing to roll up his sleeves and help his community, from serving on the local co-op board and leading his kids’ 4-H club, all the way to serving as Premier of Alberta. In between, he served in a diverse range of roles, such as school trustee with the County of Lamont Board of Education, on the boards of the Archer Memorial Hospital, and Lamont Auxiliary Hospital and Nursing Home, as well as chair of the Vegreville Health Unit Board. In 1986, he was elected as a Lamont County councillor. A year later, the council appointed him as reeve, a position he would continue to hold until his entry into provincial politics. All told, Ed has dedicated more than 40 years (and counting) to public service, including more than 25 in municipal and provincial politics.
Each step of the way, he has never forgotten his community or his identity, drawing on the advice given to him by his Member of Parliament Don Mazankowski: “Always respect those who have elected you. You owe it to them to act with integrity, compassion and respect. And the people who sit across the aisle from you have also been elected. You need to respect that, too.”
In 1992, Ed was encouraged to seek the Progressive Conservative nomination for the Vegreville-Viking constituency. He won the nomination and went on to be elected as a Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta for five terms from 1993 to 2011. Over the years, he successfully managed major portfolios as Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development; Infrastructure; Transportation; and International and Intergovernmental Relations.
In 2006, Ed led the Progressive Conservative Association to win one of its largest electoral victories in its 44 years as Alberta’s government. In fact, Albertans gave him the largest mandate ever for a first-time Premier of Alberta. He succeeded Ralph Klein to become Alberta’s 13th Premier and was sworn in on December 13, 2006. Ed is the first Premier of Alberta of Ukrainian origin and only the second person of Ukrainian descent to be elected Premier of a Canadian province.
One of the hallmarks of Ed’s leadership style is that he listens. He then works with stakeholders to reach collaborative solutions. He is known for his consistent ability to bring disparate groups and points of view together, and to find a win-win solution for all. From the beginning, his caucus, as well as external stakeholders, recognized that he was always willing to discuss thorny issues in a respectful fashion.
Many initiatives introduced by Ed’s government will benefit generations of Albertans to come. Highlights include the 10-year plan to end homelessness, Alberta’s first-ever climate change strategy, and interprovincial free trade agreements with British Columbia and Saskatchewan, which not only became the gold standard for such agreements, but also led to cooperative joint trade missions to Asia. He created the Municipal Sustainability Initiative and the $1 billion Green Trip Fund to ensure predictable funding to municipalities across the province. He tackled the province’s growing deferred maintenance budget by investing billions of dollars into public infrastructure. He made government more transparent and accountable to the public. In short, Ed made decisions in the best interest of the province, even if it meant loss of support for him personally. He adhered to the maxim of former Premier Peter Lougheed, who said, “First we make the right decision for the right reason, then we figure out the politics.”
Although he retired from provincial politics in 2011, Ed’s service to his community continues. His current volunteer associations include the Edmonton Ukrainian Catholic Eparchy, the Andrew Lions Club, and the St. Michael Community and District Agricultural Society.
Since 2012, Ed has served as board chair of Covenant Health, which governs all Catholic hospitals in Alberta and is the largest Catholic health care provider in Canada. He also currently serves as honorary chair of the fund development campaign to encourage community investment in Lakeland College.
In 2007, Ed and Marie established the Ed Stelmach Community Foundation. It has generously donated to Alberta community groups, students and charitable organizations focused largely on vulnerable populations, and women and children in difficult situations. Ed and Marie continue to personally fundraise to ensure the foundation will continue to have a significant impact for community groups in Alberta for generations to come. Ed and Marie see the foundation as a way to continue how their parents’ generation cared for one another when times were tough.
In recognition of his lifetime of public service, Ed has received many honours. In 2007, he was made an honourary chief of the Blackfoot Confederacy and given the name of “Star Chief.” In 2009, the Government of Ukraine awarded him the Order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, Class III in recognition of his work in the betterment of Alberta-Ukraine relations. He received the Hetman Award from the Alberta Provincial Council of the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in 2011 and the Michael Luchkovich Award from the Ukrainian Canadian Congress in 2013. Ed is also a recipient of Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee Medal (2012), the Alberta Centennial Medal (2005), and Queen Elizabeth II’s Golden Jubilee Medal (2002).
Ed’s support for post-secondary education is one of his many legacies. In response, the University of Alberta awarded him an Honorary Doctor of Laws. In 2014, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) celebrated Ed’s contributions by awarding him an Honorary Degree of Business Administration. That same year, Lakeland College recognized him as a Distinguished Citizen, awarding him an Honorary Bachelor of Applied Business Degree.
Ed and Marie continue to live on the homestead founded by Ed’s grandparents in 1898. In 2012, they donated the home built by his grandfather to the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, a living history museum east of Edmonton that depicts how Ukrainian immigration made a significant impact on Alberta’s cultural identity. After careful restoration work, the house was unveiled as the Stelmach House Learning Centre in 2016.
Stelmach House tells the story of the hardships faced by pioneers through the lens of one family. “Why is it important to preserve history? If we don’t know where we come from, we don’t know where we’re going from here,” says Ed. “Our current privileges and freedoms won’t endure if we don’t understand past threats to them.”
Ed and Marie are proud parents of Les, Terry, Nathan and Lynette, and proud Gigi and Baba to nine grandchildren.