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Mr. Alberta modernized insular province, making it a player on the national stage
Red Tory created political and social legacy that transcended party lines, voted best Canadian premier by Policy Options magazine
Peter Lougheed was Mr. Alberta. Nobody was more successful as a politician, more tenacious in defence of the province or more visionary in industrializing and managing Alberta’s resources and potential. Canny, determined and cosmopolitan, he modernized an insular province and made it a player on the national political stage and in the global oil economy.
A Red Tory, he led a socially conservative electorate through boom and bust as premier of Alberta from 1971 to 1985, and created a political and social legacy that transcended politics. Earlier this year, Policy Options magazine voted him the best Canadian premier of the past 40 years.
Tributes have poured in since his death in Calgary on Sept. 13, as a politician who built his province and strengthened his country and became a model of post-political public life. A tough competitor, he built the Progressive Conservative Party from nothing into a political powerhouse that has governed the province for more than 40 years. He defended Alberta’s right to own and control its own resources and fought for a stronger provincial voice and role within Canada. For all that, he was known to say after he left politics that he was a Canadian first, an Albertan second and a Progressive Conservative third.
Unlike many politicians who seem only interested in the short term, he had a view of Alberta that extended far beyond his own mandate. That’s why when oil profits were gushing in the 1970s, he created the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund as a way of putting money aside during boom times for the downturn that would inevitably follow.
Another huge part of his legacy is the mentoring of younger politicians, including Alison Redford, the current Premier of Alberta. She’s been learning from his example and following his advice since she was 16 and he was leader of the party.
“He was a larger-than-life figure,” she said in a interview during the provincial election campaign earlier this year. “My family hadn’t ever been political, but when I do recall political discussions, we talked about the fact that Lougheed was a good premier and had done a good job in building Alberta. So when I decided to join [a political party] I called the PC party because that was the party that he led.” His values reminded her of conversations with her grandparents. “He was a guy who really was self-made who understood the opportunities in this province, and those were the values I learned around the dining room table.”
As a young politico – she was the president of the youth executive of the party as a teenager – she sat in meetings with him every two months. “I learned a lot from him, and one of the things I learned was you set that course and you put the planning in place and then you build on that and manage it because that is what Albertans trust and what the voters trust.”
Edgar Peter Lougheed was born in Calgary on July 26, 1928, into a distinguished Alberta family that had fallen on straitened circumstances. His grandfather, Sir James Alexander Lougheed, was a lawyer and a federal politician. A successful businessman, a law partner of future prime minister R.B. Bennett, and a Conservative senator in the government of Sir Robert Borden, he made a sizable fortune before he died in 1925. Much of it vaporized during the Depression, so young Peter inherited an impressive political pedigree and a celebrated name, but grew up in poverty, moving with his father, Edgar Donald Lougheed, his mother, the former Edna Alexandria Bauld, and his brother Donald from one rented place to another.
He went to local schools in Calgary, finishing high school at Central Collegiate Institute. That’s where he whetted his political appetites, by proposing the formation of a students’ union and serving as its first president. Although slight of build and small of stature, Lougheed was quick of mind and movement and a natural athlete, especially on the football field. After Central Collegiate, he went to the University of Alberta, earning both an undergraduate and a law degree by 1952. At university, he played football for the Golden Bears and as a pro for the Edmonton Eskimos, as well as editing the sports section of the campus newspaper and serving as president of the student union from 1951-1952.
Even as a young man, Lougheed was a generalist who wanted to widen his business horizons and acquire a variety of experience before settling down in Alberta. First stop was acquiring a Harvard MBA. He and his bride, Jeanne Rogers, moved to Boston after their 1952 marriage. Before graduating in 1954, Lougheed spent one summer working with Gulf Oil in Tulsa, Okla., learning first hand the boom and bust cycle that is so often a part of the oil patch – an experience that he remembered later in his political career.
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