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Former Alberta premiere Lougheed, 84, dies

Peter Lougheed, who as Alberta's premier turned the province into an oil-powered modern giant and an equal player in Canada's confederation, has died at age 84, family members said.

His family said Lougheed, who served as premier from 1971 to 1985, died Thursday of natural causes. In thanking doctors who had cared for him, they confirmed he had been ill for months.

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

Lougheed took the reins of the fledgling Progressive Conservatives in 1965 and within six years had built a party that rejected a decades-old Social Credit dynasty and launched one of his own that continues to this day.

As oil prices rose dramatically in the 1970s, Lougheed became a provincial folk hero and a nationally recognized figure for his epic battles with Ottawa over control of Alberta's black gold.

He kick-started petroleum diversification by nurturing oilsands development that now sprawls throughout northern Alberta, has brought the province billions of dollars, and made it the economic driver of the country.

Lougheed created a multibillion-dollar nest egg Heritage Savings Trust Fund as oil revenue began to pour in and championed medical research. He fought for a clause in the Constitution to ensure Canada would ultimately be governed by legislators and not the courts.

Edgar Peter Lougheed was born July 26, 1928, in Calgary into an established family deeply involved in politics. His grandfather, James, had served in the Senate and in the cabinets of Conservative prime ministers Robert Borden and Arthur Meighen.

Lougheed's father was a lawyer and, in 1952, 23-year-old Peter was also awarded a law degree. Two years later, he earned an MBA from Harvard. As an undergraduate at the University of Alberta, Lougheed played football for the Golden Bears and the Canadian Football League's Edmonton Eskimos.

Lougheed married Jeanne Rogers of Forestburg, Alberta, and together they had four children.

In 1965, at 36, Lougheed took over the Progressive Conservative party and rebuilt it from the ground up. He focused on strong candidates and constituencies, on one-on-one door-knocking and on the new medium of television, which was perfect for the telegenic Lougheed.

In 1971, the Tories won the provincial election and Lougheed set to work growing and diversifying the province. He raised oil royalties to underscore provincial control of resources and encouraged a foundation of Alberta-based financial institutions to reduce reliance on central Canadian

He encouraged funding and research into extracting oil from the rich bitumen deposits near Fort McMurray.

To open up the business of government, Lougheed ordered that all daily proceedings in the house be recorded. The same year he ordered daily TV coverage of debates. Both continue to this day.

The oil price increases of the 1970s, spiked by turmoil in the resource-rich Middle East, sent money pouring into Alberta coffers. But the federal government wanted domestic prices kept below world levels and also wanted a share of the wealth.

Lougheed pushed back by refusing a deal with Pierre Trudeau, Liberal prime minister at the time, and later rejecting a similar one offered by Joe Clark and the Conservatives.

In 1980, Trudeau brought in the national energy program, a package of taxes and rules designed to funnel more resource revenues to Ottawa while keeping the domestic price below world levels.

Lougheed took it as a declaration of war.

In an impassioned TV speech, in which he accused the federal government of having moved right into Alberta's living room, he threatened to cut oil production. In March 1981, Alberta cut its daily output of 1.2 million barrels by 60,000.

Trudeau eventually relented and a face-saving deal was brokered that increased the price of oil and reaffirmed Alberta as the master of its own resources.

Lougheed also took on Trudeau over the patriation of the Constitution in 1982. The package included an amending formula which, in Lougheed's eyes, gave too much power to Ontario and Quebec and shortchanged the other provinces. He also saw the proposed Constitution as posing a threat to provincial resource ownership.

He began lobbying other premiers and eventually swung seven others against Trudeau.

"From the very outset we felt the federal government and the provinces are equal," he said long afterwards. "We just refused to take a position of being junior."