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Some musings on the death of Peter Lougheed, founder of Alberta's Tory dynasty

Peter Lougheed

TORONTO -- Peter Lougheed was the last Alberta Conservative leader worthy of the title.

By that I mean the premier who in 1971 founded the Conservative dynasty that rules the province to this day was a member of the now almost forgotten stream of conservatism that actually wanted to conserve things worth conserving, and that recognized the important role government properly plays in a civilized society.

Edgar Peter Lougheed died of natural causes earlier yesterday in Calgary, where was born in 1928. Over the next few days he will be remembered extravagantly by the Conservative Establishment, especially in Western Canada. That is fair enough, because the dynasty he created employs them still.

But as they indulge in the inevitable orgy of hagiography, and some of us on the left hum along in quiet harmony, have no doubt about this: If Mr. Lougheed were alive and in power today, the so-called conservative commentators and politicians who now dominate Canadian politics and media would disparage his positive contribution with the same venom they direct at Liberals, New Democrats and anyone else who dares to have a vision bigger than shrinking government enough to drown it in Grover Norquist’s bathtub.

And it can be said that many of these so-called Conservatives must be quietly relieved they can come to bury Lougheed, plus to praise him, secure in the knowledge there will be no more embarrassing suggestions from his corner that we Albertans are developing the oilsands too quickly or not paying enough attention to the future of our province as we scramble to make maximum bucks right now.

Indeed, it is an indicator of how far modern Canadian conservatism has fallen (not to mention other more progressive political philosophies) that it is a fair comment, and no insult, to say of Mr. Lougheed that by today’s standards he was practically a New Democrat!

Leastways, Mr. Lougheed wasn’t afraid to build things that needed to be built. Small-town Alberta is full of modern redbrick hospitals that are among his most practical and visible legacies.

Likewise, Mr. Lougheed was prepared to all but nationalize an airline to protect jobs and service in Alberta when circumstances required it.

Three generations of Conservative premiers – Don Getty, Ralph Klein and Ed Stelmach – would very much have liked to chip away at that legacy, but always came up against the political implications of public support for Mr. Lougheed’s uncomfortably un-conservative social vision.

The jury is still out on Premier Alison Redford, but if there is one of Mr. Lougheed’s successors that is a true Conservative in the Canadian tradition and the first Alberta Tory premier’s mould, it is her. At least she is the first Alberta Conservative leader since Mr. Lougheed left the political stage for whom there is some hope.

Nowadays, Alberta and Canadian “Conservatives” most often are politicians like Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Wildrose Party Leader Danielle Smith, who come in the name of market fundamentalism and a debased kind of globalism that would disdain Mr. Lougheed’s conviction the state was the actor best situated to create a better future, and that resources should be husbanded not squandered.

After Alberta spent years in the political and economic cul-de-sac that was the early Social Credit movement and the reactionary obscurantism it morphed into under Ernest Manning, Mr. Lougheed deserves credit for dragging Alberta kicking and screaming into the 20th Century.

Now we are in the 21st Century, the majority of Mr. Lougheed’s Conservative successors would like to drag us all back into the 19th!

So it is probably safe to say that, in reality, moderate and progressive Canadians will miss Mr. Lougheed and his generation of Conservatives more than the supposed Conservatives who will be mourning his loss so ostentatiously today.

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

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