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Former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed pledged support for Alison Redford as she seeks the premiership in the province's elections this month. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
Former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed pledged support for Alison Redford as she seeks the premiership in the province's elections this month. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

GARY MASON

Return of the Lougheed progressives Add to ...

It takes the trained eye of one of the keenest political observers in Alberta to come up with an explanation for this week’s surprising provincial election result.

While many believe a meltdown by Wildrose in the last week of the campaign cost it the election, Peter Lougheed thinks a return of progressives to the party he built was perhaps just as responsible for the sweeping majority the Tories were handed.

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These more liberal-minded voters who began supporting Alberta’s Progressive Conservative Party in 1971 moved to the political sidelines during the big-C conservative era of Ralph Klein and stayed there, Mr. Lougheed contends. This was evident in voter turnouts that plunged to 40-per-cent levels.

But the hibernators returned in Monday’s election, lured by the big-P progressive message delivered by Tory Leader Alison Redford. They could relate to her emphasis on social programs and the bigger place in Confederation she envisioned for her province, Mr. Lougheed says.

Perhaps the thought of handing over the keys to government to a party intending to lurch Alberta radically to the right also spurred them off the couch. There was something at stake. This may explain why voter turnout increased nearly 17 per cent from the last election.

“These people hadn’t changed their allegiance; they just didn’t go out and vote,” says Mr. Lougheed, who served as premier from 1971 to 1985 and is considered the godfather of Alberta’s Conservative Party. “This time, for a number of reasons, they did – and I couldn’t be more pleased with the result.”

Of that there’s little doubt.

Sitting in a tiny upstairs room in the mansion that his grandfather built in the centre of Calgary and that’s now a heritage centre bearing the family name, Mr. Lougheed concedes he was worried at one point that the Tory dynasty he founded might be in jeopardy. But after the leaders’ debate, he was confident that Ms. Redford’s centrist philosophy would win the day.

It’s especially gratifying for Mr. Lougheed, since many believe Ms. Redford to be his ideological twin. Political observers also think she has the emotional temperament and intellectual wherewithal to make the same distinctive mark on the national stage that Mr. Lougheed once did.

For his part, Mr. Lougheed doesn’t hide his fondness for Ms. Redford or her lofty pan-national ambitions. “I think it’s not only time Alberta began playing a larger role [in Canada] but it’s imperative,” says Mr. Lougheed, who, at 83, walks haltingly thanks to a pair of “football knees” but otherwise is remarkably spry.

Imperative, he says, because Alberta is Canada’s strongest province economically and has major issues involving its energy resources that need to be resolved.

Ms. Redford has sounded out Mr. Lougheed out on a range of issues, including the complications surrounding the Northern Gateway pipeline project. This is a subject in which he’s taken a keen interest and has done some exploring in search of a solution to the acrimony that surrounds it. Given that he has the Premier’s ear, what he says matters.

“One of the things I’ve said is they should take a second look at the Prince Rupert port,” says Mr. Lougheed. “Maybe there is potential there instead of going through the straits with the oil.”

He’s absolutely right.

Beyond oil politics, Mr. Lougheed occupies his time these days focusing on the future of the Northwest Passage. This is work he does through the aegis of the North American Forum, an annual meeting of Canadian, American and Mexican government and political representatives who deal with issues of mutual interest and benefit.

Mr. Lougheed says Canada must be ready for the day that a warming world opens up the Northwest Passage for commercial navigation. His has discussed his views with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

But, this week, the Alberta legend plans to bask in the glow of his party’s monumental victory. And he should. It says a lot about the foundation on which the Tories were built, a foundation he laid with his own hands.

 
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