Fifty years ago, Alberta entered the modern era. With the provincial election of August, 1971, Albertans dismissed Social Credit, their governing party for 36 years, and elected the Progressive Conservatives. A rural, Bible Belt regime had been replaced by a modern, urban political dynasty. A decent but bland Harry Strom was replaced as premier by the exciting. urbane Peter Lougheed.
Lougheed was Alberta. Unlike our current premier, he had no need to drive around in an oversize pickup truck wearing a Stetson hat to prove his credentials. As his grandfather, Sir James Lougheed, was a founding father of Alberta, Peter Lougheed was the founding father of modern Alberta. He was, as described by a friend, “imbued with the spirit of the province.”
A PC politically but a liberal philosophically, he was the best premier the province has ever had and, according to the Institute for Research on Public Policy, the best Canadian premier of the last 50 years—one of those exceptional politicians who rises above politics to the rank of statesman. He introduced the Alberta Bill of Rights. A firm believer in education, he funded the creation of The Canadian Encyclopaedia and then donated a copy to every school and library in the country. He initiated the Alberta Heritage fund to ensure the exploitation of non-renewable resources would continue to benefit Albertans after the resources were gone.
In 2020, Jason Kenney’s government decided to revoke Lougheed’s Coal Development policy which had been put in place in 1976 to protect the eastern slopes of the Rockies from mining. David King, fellow-conservative and former education minister under Lougheed, nicely contrasted the two premiers: “[Lougheed] was no Johnny-come-lately, unfamiliar with and uninterested in the spirit of the province. … A third generation Albertan, [he] was very sensitive to Alberta’s subtle culture. Jason Kenney is tone deaf and colourblind to the sounds and sights of Albertans, and he’s content to remain so, since his purpose seems to be to use Alberta in pursuit of some more distant—and more personal—goal.”
Lougheed brought governance for the future. Our current premier brings governance that clings to the fossil fuel-soaked past. The times call for a new Lougheed for a sustainable future.
And maybe we have one waiting in the wings. She gave us four years of fresh, progressive government from 2015 to 2019, however that may have been a false start. The shock was too much for Albertans and we scurried back to the Conservatives. But after getting a conservative party that seems to want to take us back to Social Credit, perhaps in the next election we will pluck up our courage and take a chance on the future with a fourth generation Albertan—Rachel Notley.