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Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, left, confers with Energy Minister Donald Macdonald and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau before the start of the second day of the first ministers' conference in 1975 to discuss oil and natural gas prices. (The Canadian Press)
Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, left, confers with Energy Minister Donald Macdonald and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau before the start of the second day of the first ministers' conference in 1975 to discuss oil and natural gas prices. (The Canadian Press)

Remembering Lougheed: Chrétien, Mulroney and Manning among peers to pay tribute Add to ...

It was Peter Lougheed who, looking ahead, personally advanced the concept that Alberta should systematically save a portion of its non-renewable resource revenue and invest it is such a way as to provide a growing income stream for future Albertans. He then embodied this concept in the legal and administrative architecture of the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund.

The fact that Premier Lougheed’s current successors have largely abandoned the concept in practice – increasingly using “savings” from non-renewable resource revenue to cover deficits created by over-spending – should in no way detract from the wisdom and farsightedness of the original idea.

Ironically, Peter Lougheed’s greatest act of statesmanship might yet prove to lie in the constitutional arena – an arena into which he was dragged reluctantly by the initiatives of the Trudeau administration.

It was Peter Lougheed who appreciated more than most that the Trudeau-initiated Constitution Act of 1982, with its Charter of Rights and Freedoms, embodied assumptions about the nature and priorities of the country which might not stand the test of time.  For example, its excessive preoccupation with language rights – more subsections on official languages and minority language rights than on all other rights combined. Its failure to entrench economic rights or indeed to even recognize that a constitution is the framework for an economy as well as a polity. Its assumption that aboriginal self-development would be enhanced by guaranteeing treaty rights – the legal underpinnings of the failed reserve system. Its assumption that equalization payments would somehow insure reasonably comparable levels of public services across the country regardless of how the recipient provinces managed or mismanaged their fiscal houses.

Thus it was Peter Lougheed, again looking ahead, who insisted that the Constitution Act of 1982 include the so-called “notwithstanding clause” which enables Parliament or a legislature to declare that a legislative provision may operate “notwithstanding” key provisions of the Charter. It is this provision, while of limited application and not as yet exercised extensively or fully, which may well prevent our constitution from becoming a straight jacket as the demographics, values, and priorities of the country shift from those of the Canada of the 1980s.

Alberta and Canada have lost a statesman, but the fruits of his foresight live on in Alberta and in Canada’s constitution.

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