If I had to choose Alberta’s best premier I would go with Peter Lougheed, an exceptional leader, one of too few politicians who rose above politics to statesmanship. A strong defender of the province’s interests, he also committed himself to the interests of the country.

He promoted development of the oil and gas industry while at the same time caring for the environment, from protecting the Eastern Slopes from coal mining to riding his bicycle to legislative sessions. Some of his policies, such as putting a portion of the oil wealth away for the future and not developing more than one tar sands project at a time, now seem prophetic.

He was a true son of the province, a third generation Albertan, grandson of Senator and federal cabinet minister Sir James Lougheed. The Conservatives, in their long 44-year run, never saw his like again.

If I had to choose a runner-up it would be Rachel Notley. Like Lougheed she changed the political landscape of her province. Indeed, if she had had the opportunity to serve more than one term, I suspect I would be placing her first. She was like Lougheed in a number of ways.

She had the ability to reach out to all Albertans. I still remember the announcement of her government’s climate change policy, a truly progressive approach which included a carbon tax and phasing out of coal. Joining her on the podium were academics, Indigenous leaders, environmentalists and—yes—oil industry executives. An assembly I never thought I’d see anywhere, especially in Alberta.

Notley, like Lougheed, has deep roots in her province. A multigenerational Albertan, she is the daughter of one of the province’s most respected politicians, former NDP leader Grant Notley who tragically died too young in a plane crash.

The success of the Alberta NDP—from the fringe to government and now the strongest opposition in Alberta’s history, all practically overnight—is due largely to having Rachel Notley as leader. It really has been her party. With her political pedigree, her intelligence, her broad appeal, she more than any other factor has made her party a major force, transforming Alberta’s politics in the process.

Because of what the party has become under her guidance, it has solid contenders from which to choose a new leader. Nonetheless she will, again like Peter Lougheed, be very hard to replace.

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