Peter Lougheed: Public Interest over Politics

Article excerpt

VANCOUVER -- As a western Canadian who emigrated from B.C. to Alberta in 1978, I didn't find it hard to be impressed with the premier of our adopted province.

Premier Peter Lougheed's government was already well established in the late 1970s, having swept to power in 1971, overturning an exhausted Social Credit Party that had ruled the roost for some 36 years. Coming from B.C., where Social Credit had also enjoyed a long run under premier "Wacky" (W.A.C.) Bennett, I saw that the new Conservatives were progressive and promoting change on a broad front. Because I had never voted Conservative, it was an invitation to rethink my political affiliation. And provincially, I did.

In pretty short order, Alberta had a new bill of rights, a Heritage Fund, a major (and successful) fight with the Trudeau Liberals over the National Energy Policy, a successful 1988 Winter Olympics bid, provincial government involvement in regional airlines and technology development, and broad investments in culture and the arts.

From a B.C. perspective, it was possible to see elements of the progressive socialist thinking of Dave Barrett (premier from 1972-1975) alive on the Prairies. It was Lougheed's special talent to make progressive political action something most people could identify with and support.

But there was more to the Lougheed era than progressive policy. There was the interesting combination of the premier's folksiness (especially on camera for "family chat sessions" with the electorate) and his policy wonkism. Today I see elements of the Lougheed style in Bill Clinton's recent address to the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. That address was just as masterfully scripted for the down-home, small-town audience in Arkansas as it was for the Beltway political junkies in Washington. Few politicians in my memory can speak as well to both groups as Clinton and Lougheed. In fact, right now, I cannot think of any others.

At yet another level, Lougheed stands apart from the current political actors on the Canadian stage. Simply put, he defined the political "common touch." There are thousands of stories circulating in Alberta right now on this point. I have one.

Family friends Harold and Donna Millican celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in the Priddis Community Hall in 2001. My wife and I attended with maybe 150 other friends and family members. …