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Adoration of Peter Lougheed moves beyond canonization into deification

Peter Lougheed

With his state funeral yesterday afternoon, the official adoration of former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed moved beyond canonization into deification.

If other Canadians happened to pause and listen to what was actually being said in Calgary’s 57-year-old Jubilee Auditorium, which was broadcast by the CBC, they could be forgiven for wondering if we Albertans had collectively taken leave of our senses.

I mean no disrespect for Lougheed with this observation. As has been said here before, he was an undeniably successful politician, far-sighted by the standards of any generation and surprisingly liberal in his economic views from the perspective of the positions held nowadays by his fellow Conservatives.

But Lougheed was not the father of our country, and his record is as mixed as that of other politicians of his generation. Alberta would have been a great place to live, pretty much as it is today, had someone else become premier in his place in 1971. He most certainly was not born atop a mountain in the Kananaskis Range, which is what it was starting to sound like this afternoon!

Lougheed's family is entitled to its heartfelt grief. People who knew him or knew of him and respected him, even if they disagreed with him, are right to honor his memory. And his political allies and beneficiaries of the political dynasty he founded 41 years ago naturally remember him very fondly.

I am not so sure, however, if the occasion of a state funeral -- Canadian provinces are indeed entitled to hold such events -- is an appropriate venue to try to gain a political edge or revise history, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper most certainly did in his remarks.

And as for suggesting that "every single one of us woke up this morning in Peter Lougheed's Alberta, it was the Alberta of which he dreamed, and it was the dream he was able to make real," as Premier Alison Redford did, that seems just a little over the top.

Still, Redford hit the best note of all the official speakers at the funeral. She was dignified, didn't try to milk the occasion for too much political advantage, and her assessment of Lougheed as intelligent, compassionate and honest is certainly fair.

But was he, as broadcaster Rex Murphy said, "the greatest premier this country has ever seen"? Do our soldiers and the rest of us "all stand a little taller because of E. Peter Lougheed," as former Treasurer and Conservative leadership candidate Jim Dinning intoned in the voice and diction of a beat poet? (Presumably Dinning had in mind Canada's soldiers, as, just yet anyway, Alberta doesn't have an army.)

Oh well, a little hyperbole is permissible on such occasions.

As for Harper, he can be forgiven his little joke about the supposed benefits of "strong, stable Conservative governments" and his homily to using the wealth we were all endowed with by nature to reward "entrepreneurs and investors."

But he really ought not to have tried to turn the occasion into a sneaky attack on the legacy of Pierre Elliot Trudeau -- who, unnamed, haunts us still, even here -- and "the folly of the National Energy Program."

Is Canada a better country because Lougheed -- an undeniably admirable and determined fighter -- won the battle to ensure control of this resource remained in Alberta and to restrict the flow of benefits from it to all Canadians? Was the country "from that point forward … changed for the better"? Are all Canadians, therefore, "fortunate that Peter Lougheed was there," as Harper asserted?

All these points of the prime minister's are highly partisan, intended to perpetrate a certain view of history, and all of them are legitimately debatable -- as indeed, is the suggestion the NEP was folly or responsible for the economic circumstances visited upon Alberta in its wake. This is true even though Albertans take in that opinion as if it were fact with their mothers' milk.

After the funeral ended, the Alberta and Canadian flags were raised to the top of their staffs. The state broadcaster did not play the national song, announce plans for a granite memorial in Redford Square or inform us that driving was permitted again, but none of these things would have seemed entirely out of place.

Just the same, as the flags atop their staffs imply, it's now time for us to take a deep breath and get back to reality.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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