Tributes are pouring in for former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed, considered by many to be one of Canada's most respected politicians, who has died at the age of 84.
The headlines today say it all 'One of the most remarkable Canadians of his generation;' Lougheed remembered (Vancouver Sun), A tireless champion for Alberta (Winnipeg Free Press), 'Father of Alberta' Peter Lougheed dies at age 84 (CTV News), Alberta 'lucky' to have Lougheed (Toronto Sun), Alberta's 'Blue-eyed Sheikh' Peter Lougheed dead at 84 (National Post), Peter Lougheed leaves lasting economic and political legacy for Alberta (Edmonton Journal). It seems, regardless of political affiliation, Canadians from coast to coast to coast are remembering Alberta's most famous politician.
Lougheed was first elected premier in 1971 and created a conservative dynasty that still maintains control of the province's legislature more than 40 years later. When he retired in 1985, he knew he had created a political dynasty but years later he admitted he never dreamed it would continue for so long.
For most Canadians, especially those who were part of the Lougheed years from 1971-85, Peter Lougheed will be remembered for his overwhelming political sweeps of four consecutive elections, creating a party that had “no seats, no money, no organization and no presence in the minds of voters.” His legacy also includes standing up to Prime Mininster Pierre Trudeau over the National Energy Program, introduced in 1980. The program divided the country, pitting Alberta (the country's biggest oil producer) and Central Canada (the biggest energy consumer) against each other, with remnants of that animosity remaining still today. But just two days after the NEP was introduced, Lougheed retaliated by cutting Alberta's oil production. If the province would be forced to subsidize Central Canada's oil needs through higher taxes, it would simply turn off the taps. (A popular bumper-sticker in Alberta at that time, read: "Let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark.") It took almost a year of political fighting before an agreement was reached between the federal and provincial governments. The battle won Lougheed the nickname,"The Blue-Eyed Sheikh."
Quebec Liberal MP Justin Trudeau, son of the former Prime Minister took to Twitter to reflect on Lougheed's legacy. “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”
Apart from his role in laying the groundwork to make Alberta an international energy producing powerhouse, by nurturing oilsands development that has brought the province billions of dollars and made it the economic engine of the country, he also created the multibillion-dollar Heritage Savings Trust Fund from oil revenue that has helped to diversify Alberta's economy.
Lougheed will also be remembered for his key role in helping rewrite the Canadian Constitution, fighting for a notwithstanding clause to make sure the country was governed by legislators and not the courts.
Today the tributes are pouring in; "Today Canada lost a truly great man ... 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." Prime Minister Stephen Harper
“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,” Don Getty, Lougheed's successor as Premier says, “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.”
Former Ontario premier Bill Davis, who was also elected in 1971 and had numerous clashes with Lougheed says, “He transformed the economy of Alberta and made a major contribution to the future well-being of Canada.” Davis praised Lougheed’s “strong sense of purpose and unwavering commitment to policies that moved Alberta and Canada forward.”
As a young reporter in Edmonton, I met Lougheed numerous times, usually in the middle of a media scrum of reporters, microphones and TV cameras. I was sure that I was just another faceless reporter, but there were moments when I realized that nobody was faceless to Lougheed. On that day in 1985 when he announced he was retiring from the top job in the province, I was at the Alberta Legislature along with a legion of national and provincial reporters. After battling others in the middle of the scrum to get Lougheed's parting words, I made my way out and headed over to his wife and children. I talked with them to find out what the previous 14-years had meant to them and what they were looking forward to with Lougheed coming home without the responsibilities that had occupied him for much of his children's lives.
I got back to the station and put together my stories and news clips. It was at that time that my news director came out of his office to say he had just had a call from the outgoing premier who wanted to say how impressed he was with me and the angle I had taken on the story. He said his family had to put up with a lot while he fulfilled his political aspirations and for them this was a life changing moment too and he appreciated that I recognized that. I was overwhelmed that this political statesman who was in the midst of a media circus took the time to make sure my boss knew what he thought about me.
I was reminded of that today as I read a statement by the family on Lougheed's death, "Although he was known to many for his contributions to Alberta and to Canada, his first dedication was to his family. 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."
Not everyone agreed with his politics, but his impact on the Canadian political and economic landscape can't be denied.
Peter Lougheed died in Calgary Thursday, surrounded by his family and his memories. He was 84. The family has planned a private funeral service.