EDMONTON – A transformational force for the betterment of Alberta and Canada, a charming leader unique to his generation, a giant of Canadian history, a political hero.
Coast-to-coast, lawmakers of the past and present alike are paying their respects to former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed with a universal warmth reserved for all but the exceptional few.
With news surfacing earlier this week that the 84-year-old was gravely ill, word of his death Thursday night touched off an abundance of adoration.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a fellow Calgarian, was among the most profuse, calling Lougheed “quite simply one of the most remarkable Canadians of his generation.”
“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,” Harper said.
Lougheed’s accomplishments were many.
He kick-started one of Canada’s longest provincial political dynasties when he led the Progressive Conservatives to victory in 1971. There are still in power to this day.
He became a provincial folk hero and a nationally recognized figure for his epic battles with Ottawa over control of Alberta’s oil resources as prices spiked in the 1970s. And he led the movement toward petroleum diversification by nurturing oilsands development which now sprawls throughout northern Alberta and has become a economic driver of the country.
He created a multibillion-dollar nest egg savings fund for Alberta all while fostering arts, culture and tourism.
He helped patriate the Constitution and fought for a notwithstanding clause to ensure Canada would ultimately be governed by legislators and not the courts.
He championed bilingualism and in retirement spoke out against the Kyoto accord to control greenhouse gases, but urged caution over the environmental effects from unbridled growth of the oilsands.
There were those who remembered Lougheed chiefly for his provincial accomplishments.
“He created a direction for Alberta that we can all be proud of today,” said current Alberta Premier Alison Redford. “His forward-thinking, progressive vision gave us the tools to succeed today and helped to propel Alberta into a leadership role in Canada.”
And there were those who remembered him as a nation builder.
“He was unshakable in his belief that this country was the greatest country in the world and that it had to be united,” said former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow, who got to study Lougheed up close as they both participated in the Constitutional debates.
“I watched his performances and they were outstanding because he understood that, in Canada, we built this country by a policy of inclusivity. That you can be both a good Albertan and a good Canadian. That the choice doesn’t come down to being a good Canadian or a good Albertan.”
The adulation came from all sides of the political spectrum.
“Mr. Lougheed understood and respected that a strong public sector was a necessary partner in the development of our province,” said Guy Smith, president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees. “There were, of course, occasional differences of opinion between our union and Mr. Lougheed’s government, but they are overshadowed by his legacy: a strong, vibrant and professional public sector, dedicated to serving the people of Alberta, their health, education, industry, and economy.”
Even one-time rivals offered only praise.
“We were known to have differences of opinion on occasion, but I never questioned his integrity or his motivation,” said former Ontario premier Bill Davis.
Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall lamented the loss of a mentor and a political hero.
Wall said he would often meet with Lougheed while in Opposition. When Wall’s Saskatchewan Party formed the government in 2007, he said he asked Lougheed to come to Saskatchewan and give his members a pep talk.
“He said he would but wondered if we could afford his consultation fee. I asked him what the fee was. He said a steak sandwich,” Wall recalled.
“His subsequent visit and the resulting discussions through the years have turned out to be the most important steak sandwich ever bought in our province.”
Lougheed’s family — wife Jeanne, sons Stephen and Joseph and daughters Andrea and Pamela — said in a statement that a public memorial will be planned in the coming days.
Amidst all of the historical recollection, their remembrance was much more intimate, reducing a political titan to his most genuine form.
“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,” they said. “We will miss him terribly.”