Skip to main content

Peter Lougheed meets Progressive Conservative supporters in Edmonton on Nov. 4, 1982, after his party swept to another election victory.The Canadian Press

Regardless of political stripe, no matter the geographic location, tributes poured in to honour former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed, who died in Calgary on Thursday, at the age of 84.

Mr. Lougheed, who had a long history with heart problems but whose family said Thursday evening he died of natural causes, was being cared for in his final days in the hospital that bears his name.

"Today Canada lost a truly great man," Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement, "Peter Lougheed was quite simply one of the most remarkable Canadians of his generation."

Mr. Lougheed, who kick-started the province's Progressive Conservative dynasty and reshaped its place in Confederation, was also a lawyer and former CFL player. He served as premier from 1971 to 1985, laying the groundwork for Alberta's oil sands boom and famously battling Pierre Trudeau over the proposed National Energy Program.

"A master politician, gifted lawyer, professional-calibre athlete and philanthropist, the former premier was instrumental in laying the foundation for the robust economic success that his cherished province of Alberta enjoys today," the Prime Minister said in the statement.

He is regarded as the grandfather of Alberta's PC party, one who stayed active in his final days and endorsed the vision of current premier Alison Redford. From a trade mission in Asia, Ms. Redford was saddened to learn of the passing of her "dear friend and mentor."

"He was a powerful inspiration to me," she said in a statement, "He was a role model and mentor for me both personally and professionally since I first met him many years ago."

"Premier Lougheed was unquestionably devoted to Alberta and Alberta's interests," she said. "He not only believed in a strong and united Canada, he believed that Alberta did not have to succeed at the expense of Canada, but as a proud member of a country working together – a country where all succeeded."

He was remembered by former cabinet colleague Don Getty, who succeeded Mr. Lougheed as premier.

"We have lost a great man, and a great Canadian and a great Albertan. And we just want a chance now for Albertans and Canadians to pay tribute to him, and we will," Mr. Getty said Thursday night, after receiving word of Mr. Lougheed death.

"He came along at a time when Alberta needed [an] outstanding leader, and he filled that bill perfectly. He led us through the Canadian scene of all the things that were going on from provincial and federal situation, Trudeau, and the energy law. All those things," Mr. Getty said. "And yet he was an Albertan with a wonderful family, and he carried also on his shoulders the Progressive Conservative party. He was an outstanding man."

Liberal stalwart and Quebec MP Justin Trudeau, whose father clashed as Prime Minister with Mr. Lougheed, turned to Twitter to reflect on Canada's loss.

"It is with tremendous sadness that we bid adieu to a giant of Canadian politics. Peter Lougheed was a man of vision, integrity, and heart," he wrote.

Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman wrote: "Premier Lougheed was a gift to us! May God Bless him and his family."

In a statement, Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith lauded Mr. Lougheed as as a man who fought the National Energy Program and created the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, the province's rainy day fund.

"We will remember Mr. Lougheed as a man of great personal integrity, who treated others with great compassion and who had an unwavering commitment of service to the people of Alberta," she said.

Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason said in a statement that Mr. Lougheed transformed Alberta into a more "progressive province."

"He stood up for Albertans, but remained a passionate Canadian," he said.

The married father of four, Mr. Lougheed stayed busy in his final years. He continued to serve as counsel to a major Calgary law firm, Bennett Jones, and remained an active figure in the PC party.

Perry Spitznagel, vice-chair of Bennett Jones, where Mr. Lougheed spent 27 years of his post-political life, described the former premier as an "extraordinary man and a Canadian icon."

The battles over the National Energy Program, the constitutional battles over who owns the resources, and then the patriation of the Constitution – these were colossal battles in Canada of which he was at the forefront, Mr. Spitznagel said.

Mr. Lougheed spoke for two hours at a party reunion last fall, marking the 40th anniversary of coming to power. But he had long battled heart conditions, Mr. Getty said, and twice rescheduled campaign appearances with Ms. Redford during the spring election.

He mentored other young and up-and-coming politicians.

"When I needed advice, Premier Lougheed was there, he was a gracious human being," wrote federal Tory cabinet minister Rona Ambrose, who represents an Edmonton riding, "He showed us how Alberta can lead Confederation."

Mr. Lougheed gained the respect of his peers across the country.

"He transformed the economy of Alberta and made a major contribution to the future well-being of Canada," said former Ontario premier Bill Davis, who, like Mr. Lougheed, was sworn in as premier in 1971. Mr. Davis praised Mr. Lougheed's "strong sense of purpose and unwavering commitment to policies that moved Alberta and Canada forward."

The two didn't always agree, Mr. Davis said. On one point, in particular: "the relevant abilities of t he Calgary Stampeders and Toronto Argonauts."

B.C. Premier Christy Clark saluted Mr. Lougheed as a "true renaissance man – a leader with vision and passion and an undeniable legacy" in a statement issued Thursday night.

She said Mr. Lougheed – "one of the greatest premiers" – defended neighboring Alberta interests while helping build a country.

"His inspired leadership laid the foundation for western Canada's influence in Ottawa today."

Alberta's business leaders admired Mr. Lougheed, and not just for his support of the oilpatch.

"He created perhaps one of the greatest contributions to the province's history in the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, which was created under his reign," Randy Eresman, Encana Corp.'s chief executive, said. "It was part of his fiscal conservativism. He wanted to make sure the resources of the province of Alberta allowed Albertans to be prosperous during good times and bad times by having a bank account which could be drawn in times of need and accumulated in times of excess."

But energy, and the oil sands in particular, is still the cornerstone of Mr. Lougheed's legacy in Alberta's business circles.

Mr. Lougheed approved Syncrude Canada Ltd.'s oil sands operation after the government twice rejected the proposal. When the company needed financial support, he provided it, and convinced the federal government as well as Ontario to participate.

"The nature of the oil sands evolution has been one that has been a locomotive for the Canadian economy as well as the Albertan economy today," Jim Carter, a former Syncrude CEO, said. "Peter Lougheed had the vision of what could happen."

Mr. Lougheed's influence in the oil sands extends far beyond this one project, said Eric Newell, another former Syncrude CEO, and chair of Climate Change and Emissions Management Corp.

"It was Peter Lougheed's vision that created Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority (AOSTRA) back in 1974," Mr. Newell said. The organization put the energy industry and government on the same team, tackling the challenges in the oil sands. "He created a model that still works today how industry and the government of Alberta work very well together."

Steam-assisted gravity drainage (SAGD) technology, key to bitumen extraction today, was developed thanks to AOSTRA, Mr. Newell noted.

"He was just very, very instrumental in everything about the oil sands," Mr. Newell said.

His family said in a statement that Mr. Lougheed was all those things and more. He leaves behind his wife, Jeanne, and children Stephen, Andrea, Pam and Joe, as well as seven grandchildren.

"Although he was known to many for his contributions to Alberta and to Canada, his first dedication was to his family," the family said in a statement, "He was a deeply caring and loving husband, father and grandfather. We will miss him terribly. Thank you to all Albertans and Canadians for their outpouring of support which has deeply touched our family."

With a report from Nathan VanderKlippe

Interact with The Globe