What would Lougheed do?
Province building lessons from the past for the future
In 1965, a young Calgary lawyer named Peter Lougheed and his cohorts recognized Alberta was increasingly diverse and urban and that the provincial government of the time did not reflect their vision of Alberta. Lougheed and his team joined a political party that was described as leaderless and stumbling.
In 1966, Lougheed was elected leader of the Progressive Conservative Association of Alberta. He had never previously visited the legislature. By 1971, Lougheed’s party included former independents, Liberals and Conservatives. They swept to a majority government winning 49 of 65 seats.
Would Lougheed recognize the current government as the party he brought to power with a vision of Alberta? What would Lougheed do if faced with the current challenges in Alberta?
Get Alberta’s financial house in order
The Lougheed government’s first priority was to get Alberta’s financial house in order. To address the provincial deficit without impacting services, energy royalties were increased from 16.66 to 21 per cent raising revenues by $285 million.
Today Alberta’s deficit stands at $5 billion. If we follow Lougheed’s approach to balancing the books revenues should be increased. Options include reviewing taxes, introducing a provincial sales tax, revising the energy royalty regime (again) or finding new sources of revenue such as gaming or environmental charges. Lougheed did not drastically cut government services or blow up the Calgary General Hospital.
Protect individual and property rights
The Lougheed government passed the Alberta Bill of Rights on its first day in the Legislature. This bill, along with the Individual Rights Protection Act, protects and codified Albertan’s rights and freedoms. Legislation strengthening mental health care, seniors Medicare subsidies, housing for disabled children and wilderness protection (including the establishment of Kananaskis Park) soon followed.
Forty years later there appears to be a rapid erosion of individual and property rights.
Facilities for vulnerable Albertans should be improved. We should ensure that landowners rights are not diminished by carbon under the ground or transmission lines through their fields. Our natural areas deserve more, not less protection.
Find a bold Province building initiative
Today most Albertan’s would be hard pressed identify a bold province building initiative that could create thousands of jobs, attract massive capital investment and sustain economic growth. For Lougheed, Syncrude embodied Province building. Province building and resource control were inseparable. Lougheed invited private companies to come up to Fort McMurray (evidently the historically poor region) in 1974 to start a consortium that would become Syncrude.
Lougheed also sought to further diversify the Alberta economy.
The creation of the integrated economic corridor, with infrastructure like high speed rail, could be a bold new initiative. Also Albertans in the energy sector work on projects around the world. Government should ensure that Alberta is a centre of global energy management, engineering and expertise (with or without our own resources). We should leverage our energy expertise to attract renewable energy jobs and investment.
Save resource revenues to ensure future prosperity
A portion of Alberta’s surpluses under Lougheed’s government were invested to ensure that future generations have a high level of prosperity.
The government is drawing down savings to pay for the deficit in government savings. Using savings for current needs is antithetical to Lougheed’s vision. Alberta went through another boom during the Klein years, but unlike Lougheed’s era of prosperity, we have little savings to show for it.
Lougheed used savings to make prudent investments to diversify the economy. Instead of putting $2 billion into CCS, Alberta could create a Green Heritage Fund to invest in Alberta-based environmental technology with proven benefits.
Our failure to save resource revenues does not respect Lougheed’s vision and threatens our future prosperity.
Preside over a new pride in being Albertan
Lougheed recognized that Alberta was more diverse and modern than it’s government represented. He increased revenues to address a record deficit, enshrined individual rights, boldly created new industries and saved for our future prosperity. He created pride in being Albertan.
Who can preside over a new pride in being Albertan for a new generation?
Aritha van Herk, Mavericks: An Incorrigibile History of Alberta (Toronto: Penguin, 2002) at pp. 266-274.
David G. Wood, The Lougheed Legacy (Toronto: Key Porter, 1985) at pp. 69-70.
Alberta in the 20th Century, Volume 11: Lougheed & the War with Ottawa 1971-1984 (Edmonton: CanMedia Inc., 2006) at pp. 52-60.
Thanks to Emma Grace May for her editing assistance.