Peter Lougheed, Mr. Alberta, helped the province come of age – by Jeffrey Simpson (Globe and Mail – September 14, 2012)posted in Canadian/International Media Resource Articles, Oil and Gas Sector-Politics and Image |
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Peter Lougheed was a Progressive Conservative in politics, a Tory in thinking, a gentleman in life, a lawyer in profession, an Albertan in breeding, a Canadian at heart.
He won his last election 30 years ago. Yet, for all but the youngest Albertans, he’s remembered as the best premier Alberta ever had. He would walk the streets of Calgary, or any other Alberta city or town, years after leaving public life and be hailed as “Mr. Premier” or just plain “Peter.” Small of stature but large of reputation, he recalled a time and a government when some of the province’s best and brightest wanted to serve, because it meant working with and under him.
Modern Alberta came of age with Peter Lougheed. He both reflected that modernization and hastened it. He was elected premier in 1971, just before the world oil shock sent world prices soaring, creating a bonanza for Alberta. Suddenly, the province got rich. With that wealth came money and people flocking to Alberta, Albertans moving to Calgary and Edmonton, and a determination by federal governments to spread Alberta’s wealth around the country. They were turbulent times, to say the least, what with energy revenue a national issue, constitutional battles emerging, fiscal deficits growing and governments wrestling with the challenges of stagflation, the deadly mixture of high interest rates, high unemployment and slow growth.
Mr. Lougheed, defending Alberta’s jurisdictional turf in conflicts with Liberal and Conservative governments in Ottawa, navigated his province through these shoals. The shame of his successors is that they took two of his cardinal convictions and discarded them in the rush for quick spoils and easy money – that natural resource revenues belong to the people and should be developed in a measured, balanced fashion, and that considerable money from those resources should be husbanded in a Heritage Fund for future generations.
Mr. Lougheed built what had been the ramshackle Progressive Conservative Party of Alberta into an unstoppable powerhouse. He won four elections between 1971 and 1982 and could have won more, but decided, as the wisest of leaders do, to quit while he was on top. He won for many reasons: his personal energy, drive, attention to detail, communications skills, dedication to advancing and defending Alberta’s interests, and, most of all, because he governed as a Tory and behaved like a gentleman.
Tories are an increasingly endangered political species in Canada. They exist only on the periphery of Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party. They are almost extinct in the country’s think tank, blogging and right-wing media worlds. They almost disappeared in the Alberta PC Party under Ralph Klein, a populist. Now, a Tory has returned as Alberta’s Premier, Alison Redford, who assembled a wide coalition to win the last election, describing herself as a “Lougheed Conservative.” His legacy, or at least his inspiration, has returned after a long time in the wilderness.
Mr. Lougheed governed not as an ideological opponent of the state – the red meat of modern-day conservative thinking – but as its ally. The state, he believed, was the people’s friend, which is what Tories tend to believe. And he used the state aggressively, perhaps in a few cases too aggressively, to buy an airline and make public investments, help the early oil-sands industry get its legs, create the Heritage Fund, build new social programs – all the while believing in the free-enterprise system as the best wealth-creation generator. He used the state aggressively, when necessary, against what he saw could be invidious practices of the oil and gas industry, for which he was banned from the Petroleum Club.
Put simply, Mr. Lougheed always understood the importance of the industry for Alberta, but he never directly equated its interests with the wider interests of Alberta. Indeed, one of his driving but unrequited ambitions was to make the province’s economy more diversified by investing some of the “rents” from oil and gas into other sectors. That was precisely the approach recommended by a blue-ribbon panel on Alberta’s future created by Ed Stelmach – a report that was dead on publication in post-Lougheed Alberta.
For the rest of this column, please go to the Globe and Mail website: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/commentary/peter-lougheed-mr-alberta-helped-the-province-come-of-age/article4544365/