Memory of a young Lougheed
By: David Haas
| Posted: Wednesday, Sep 19, 2012 06:00 am
In 1967 I was a young military officer in Halifax and got a free train ride to Calgary by escorting a draft of military recruits to various training depots west, ending in Calgary.
Calgary happened to be my home for electoral purposes and when I arrived in late May there was a provincial election going on. Change was in the air. My family home was in the Calgary West constituency. A candidate there from the hitherto moribund Progressive Conservative party, and now its provincial leader, was taking a serious run at cracking the Social Credit monolith that had ruled Alberta for nearly 32 years. Social Credit’s days as a wacky group of monetary cranks trying to cope with the depression were long past. Under premier “Uncle Ernie” Manning it had evolved into a solid, dependably small “c” conservative party, if one with a pronounced rural orientation. But by 1967 it had passed its shelf expiry date.
I recalled a conversation five years earlier, when I was in Grade 12 and politically interested – the Current Affairs Club, casual discussions, that sort of thing. A classmate told me that his father was on the province’s Progressive Conservative executive and had said they despaired of getting anywhere unless they could attract a young, dynamic leader who would excite public interest. In 1965 the party had given the job to a young lawyer with, as it happened, a famous family name in Alberta politics. To demonstrate his dynamic approach, the new leader was now running from door to door throughout the constituency to speak with householders. One did not expect that from “Uncle Ernie” up in Strathcona East – Mr. Manning did not do such things.
I have a memory of seeing the new Tory leader and his entourage dashing along what used to be my street (long since part of the Crowchild Trail). He did not stop at my parents’ home. The way the run-by worked was that an advance team checked out houses along the route to see whether a visit would be welcome. At my place my mother told them tartly that she had no desire to meet some sweaty, out-of-breath runner.
I paid attention to the campaign and was eligible to vote thanks to generous provincial attitudes towards serving military personnel. As it happened the PC campaign office was three blocks south of my house, and on election night the place was jumping. Peter Lougheed was in, with double the vote of the Social Credit incumbent (also double that of his predecessor as PC candidate and provincial leader four years earlier). It set a pattern. Four years later Lougheed demolished what was left of the Social Credit regime. He served as Alberta’s premier for fourteen years.
Lougheed’s achievements as premier are well known. There is however one gesture by the man that is obscure but reflects credit upon him. In his days of power his principal opponent in the legislature was NDP leader Grant Notley. No electoral threat perhaps, but a skilled debater demonstrating a driving moral force. Personal respect transcended political enmity. When Notley was killed in an air crash in late 1984 Lougheed was devastated. Without seeking any publicity the premier quietly made government transport available to the NDP to assist arrangements for the necessary transition and observances – a kindness that was a mark of the man’s stature.
David Haas had known Notley briefly many years before his death, and learned of Lougheed’s warm-hearted gesture from a high level NDP supporter with personal knowledge of the matter.