In 1967, Peter Lougheed, then little known outside Alberta, was the keynote speaker at the Progressive Conservative leadership convention in Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto; it was a prescient choice of someone who proved to be one of a handful of leading statesmen in modern Canada.
Just a few months before, Mr. Lougheed had taken the provincial Conservative Party from zero to six seats in the Alberta Legislature, campaigning on promises such as the privatization of the provincial telephone company – not markedly to the left or the right of the governing Social Credit Party, but with a fresher, younger approach. From the time he became premier in 1971, he consistently showed balance: equally interested in environmental legislation and in the potential of the oil sands.
Mr. Lougheed did more than anyone else to shape today’s Alberta, and in the process to rebalance Canada to accommodate Western aspirations. When he took power, a new era was beginning in international energy.
Commodity prices were surging around the world, and a cartel of some oil-producing countries was effectively restricting supply. Within Canada, the federal government was subsidizing oil usage to keep prices low, which amounted to a preference for central and eastern Canada – and made the country even more reliant on imported oil. But Mr. Lougheed stood up for his region, and for his country, rightly arguing that a fair market return to the Canadian oil industry was in the interests of Canada as a whole. In the end, in spite of the destructive national energy program of the early 1980s, he prevailed.
His impact was felt over four decades. As recently as this spring, his intervention in the provincial election on behalf of an outward-looking and confident Premier Alison Redford was a factor in her victory.
A staunch defender of Alberta’s interests, Peter Lougheed had an unwavering commitment to Canada. He understood that a strong Canada required a strong Alberta; he added to the strength of both.