Don Martin: Remembering Peter Lougheed's political DNA
Peter Lougheed speaks during his induction into the Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame at a Gala in Montreal, Friday, April 23, 2010. (Graham Hughes / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Published Friday, September 14, 2012 4:47PM EDT
As oil royalties flooded Alberta in the late ‘70s, eastern business leaders lined up outside Peter Lougheed’s legislature office to get a piece of the action.
Legend has it that the first thing the blue-eyed premier did was check out their wristwatch.
If they were still ticking two hours ahead on Toronto time, Lougheed’s face would freeze into severely unimpressed frown.
The way he figured it, if those trying to exploit his province’s resources couldn’t be bothered switching to Mountain Time, they had Bay Street in mind and not Alberta’s best interests at heart.
That tidbit was the essence of Peter Lougheed, who died Thursday in Calgary at age 84.
A loyal Canadian first, he was a fiercely protective Albertan – and yet it never came across as a contradiction.
But he was much more than a loud, proud, Western voice on the national stage.
He refashioned the image of Alberta from a Bible-thumping agricultural society into a roaring cosmopolitan province where, it was infamously observed, even the escalators moved faster.
To ensure Albertans were buffered from whimsical eastern decision-making, he bought an airline, invested in railway cars and helped create a deep-sea west coast port for exports.
To enhance the quality of life in the big cities, he created urban provincial parks, first-class hospitals and research centres in top-notch universities and colleges to provide the skilled labor for the job-hungry energy sector.
And then there are the oilsands, which he pushed into development while cautioning it had to be done at a sustainable pace.
The constitutional wars and fight against the National Energy Program defined him in Ottawa, but his real legacy lives on in everyday Albertans today.
He recreated his province as modern, economically fortified and smart.
Anyone like me, who was fortunate enough to spend time as an Albertan, has strands of Lougheed’s political DNA in their soul.
Thanks to his time in office, Alberta no longer seems to run two hours behind Toronto.