Peter Lougheed was an extraordinary individual – able, tough, disciplined, visionary – but his true gift was his ability to draw the best talents of others into common and constructive purposes. He was a singular leader but never alone, instinctively attracting and respecting the ideas, engagement and initiative of others.
His leadership transformed Alberta, but he rarely denigrated his predecessors or the past. Instead, he sought consciously to build upon their accomplishments. He was a natural modernizer – a Harvard graduate, a forward-looker, a football player at 5 foot 6! But he was also rooted in Alberta’s earliest days, before it was a province, before it was rich. He saw Alberta – he saw Canada – as a whole community with a history, a future and an identity, and he governed for the long term:
- Natural resources were not simply to be exported, but where possible should be processed in a way that would build long-term capacity and strength
- Wealth should not simply be spent, or salted away, but invested in the future. Significantly, the long-term fund which Peter Lougheed created was named the “heritage” fund
- Communities are more than economies, so one of his earliest acts as premier was to introduce Alberta’s first human rights legislation, and a legacy of which he and his wife Jeanne were proudest was Alberta’s investment in the arts.
One of the intriguing friendships in Canada was between Peter Lougheed and René Lévesque, each a defining symbol and agent of change in our country. They disagreed profoundly on Quebec’s independence, but Peter intuitively understood the aspiration of Quebeckers to assert their culture and identity.
It is an interesting question as to how Canada would have been shaped had Peter chosen a career in federal politics. After Robert Stanfield stepped down as national leader of the Progressive Conservative Party, several of us urged Peter to run for that office. He made a different choice: to finish the mission he had begun, and to build Canada as a highly-influential premier, and a wise and forthright citizen.
More than 50 years ago, my late father, Charles Clark, and Louis Hyndman of Edmonton, nominated Peter for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party. I worked with this then-young leader, as his organizer, to revive a political party which had never won a provincial election in Alberta.
We organized a series of policy discussions across the province, including one on agriculture in Lacombe. My instructions were to invite whoever would come, but to focus particularly on younger farmers who, whatever their politics, were innovators. That was Peter’s pattern across the province, and many of those innovators, whom we enticed to those discussions, later became his candidates and his ministers.
In our first by-election, in Pincher Creek-Crowsnest, we had an excellent “new generation” candidate. Peter campaigned actively door-to-door – and we came fourth on election night. The NDP won. We were surprised and disappointed but Peter’s reaction was, “Well, we learned a lot from that.”
Albertans and Canadians have a lot to learn from the way Peter Lougheed saw and served and enriched his country.