Lougheed leaves local legacy
Former premier Peter Lougheed dies at 84
By: By Megan Sarrazin
| Posted: Saturday, Sep 15, 2012 06:00 am
St. Albert community members and past politicians shared fond memories of former Alberta premier Peter Lougheed in the wake of his death Thursday.
Lougheed died at his namesake hospital, Calgary's Peter Lougheed Centre, of natural causes after several months of deteriorating health. He was 84.
Lougheed was elected leader of the Progressive Conservative party in 1965 and led the party to victory in the 1971 election, defeating the long-reigning Social Credit Party.
He served as the province's 10th premier from 1971 to 1985, beginning the PC's since uninterrupted tenure.
“It was one of the greatest privileges of my life to serve in his caucus for two terms,” said Myrna Fyfe, St. Albert MLA from 1979 to 1986. “He was truly a role model.”
She said Lougheed had a lasting affect on her both as a politician and as a person.
“There was lesson after lesson that he taught us and taught us so well by example,” Fyfe said. “He had such a caring way that he thought about people of all walks of life.”
She said there are numerous initiatives undertaken by Lougheed that have contributed greatly to the province's success, including ensuring greater profit from the oil and gas royalties, opening of the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund and the creation of the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research.
The Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund was introduced in 1976 and has since contributed roughly $34 billion to fund key priorities like health care and education in the province.
Richard Plain served as St. Albert mayor from 1974 to 1977 and said Lougheed had a profound impact on the growth and success of the community.
“I think it would be fair to say that St. Albert's ability to grow and expand was very much helped by Lougheed initiatives,” he said, adding the addition of numerous social programs lessened the pressure on municipal governments.
Plain said Lougheed's focus on the end goal versus sticking to the party line brought him great success and was an admirable characteristic.
“It was more about what you could do and what you needed to do to serve the best interests of the population than it was about some ideology,” he said. “It was a type of leadership that we've had once in our lifetimes and no one else has been able to equal, but that's not surprising … because Lougheed is Lougheed.”
Plain recalls fondly the time Lougheed brought a softball team to St. Albert to play a game and interact with the public, as well as his unwavering support for arts and culture, which left a lasting impact on the community.
St. Albert's cultural services department got its start in large part because of Lougheed's support, said Carol Watamaniuk, who sat as the department's director at the time of its inception in the late 1970s.
“I think the city should be forever indebted to him for supporting (culture),” she said. “Of course, it took people in our community to initiate these things, but the support that we got from the province was tremendous.”
She said there was a significant boost to the previously limited budget for cultural spending in the province, which enabled the city's department to flourish.
“It was a real cultural revolution in the province,” she said. “A lot of the programs that are there still today got big boosts in the beginning of dollars from the province and I think it was thanks to the foresight and … balance that Peter Lougheed was trying to create in the province.”
This investment in cultural programs fostered a change in the thinking of a lot of people and laid the framework for future projects, Watamaniuk said.
Although his legacy is vast, she said she most appreciates his inclusiveness.
“It was a very well rounded view of what builds the province and what builds the communities within it,” she said. “He was such an honourable politician.”
Bill Shields sat on council from 1977 to 1986 and has a long history with the PC party, but previously aligned with the Liberal party.
“The thing that impressed me and got me really locked in to the Progressive Conservatives was Peter Lougheed,” he said. “He was such a marvelous man.”
Shields said Lougheed's government changed the face of government and represented a collective province rather than an individual party.
“I think the biggest legacy is a progressive side and a focus on not just conservative,” he said. “He moved everything really into the middle.”
Despite a different position on the political spectrum, all political parties in Alberta recognized Lougheed's lasting contributions to the province.
“Peter Lougheed fought for Alberta and was a tremendous builder of our province. He stood up for Albertans, but remained a passionate Canadian,” said Alberta NDP leader Brian Mason.
A public memorial is expected, but no plans have been announced.