Past Leadership

Peter LougheedPeter Lougheed was the 10th premier of Alberta, but the first to kick off the 40-year Alberta Progressive Conservative dynasty.

Lougheed’s electoral victory in 1971 was no small feat. The Social Credit party was enjoying a dynasty of its own, with 36 years of uninterrupted power, and few pundits predicted a Conservative victory.

The Conservatives had been shut out of the legislature in the 1963 election.

“I have no illusions. It’s a long tough road,” Lougheed told the Calgary Herald after winning the Conservative leadership in 1965. He added: “Things are beginning to stir, to happen in this province. The voters are ready to make a move.”

Under Lougheed’s stewardship, the party managed to get a foothold of six seats in the 1967 election.

During the 1971 campaign, the Conservatives painted themselves as a younger, urban, more imaginative and energetic alternative to the Socreds, who clung heavily to their rural farming roots for support. Key Conservative campaign slogans were “Time for a change,” and “Now!”

With a law degree from the University of Alberta and MBA from Harvard, Lougheed steamrolled into office in 1971 with 49 of 75 seats, capturing all 16 Edmonton seats and nine of 13 Calgary ridings.

Political analysts generally agreed that Lougheed benefitted from the expanded role of television coverage and a TV-focused ad campaign.

The Socreds, who had replaced the popular Ernest Manning with the low-key Harry Strom as leader in 1968, relied more heavily on newspaper and radio ads to get their message out.

As premier, Lougheed distinguished himself by engaging in ongoing energy and constitutional wars with Ottawa, becoming the nemesis of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau while crusading for stronger provincial roles in national decision-making.

When the Trudeau government announced the National Energy Program in October of 1980, thereby increasing Ottawa’s revenue take and role in energy development, Lougheed retaliated by putting proposed new oilsands plants on hold and ordering oil production cutbacks. The battle continued until 1982, when Lougheed and Trudeau finally reached a revenue-sharing agreement.

Lougheed was also one of the leading proponents of the 1982 constitutional amending formula, which ensured provinces have a significant role in changes.

On the home front, Lougheed spearheaded the creation of the province’s Heritage Savings Trust Fund “nest egg,” describing the fund as a savings account to offset future slumps in resource revenues. To this day, critics insist Conservative governments have failed to set aside sufficient energy revenues in boom times to adequately protect the province during economic downturns.

Two other highlights of the Lougheed years included the creation of Kananaskis Country west of Calgary as a monster-sized recreational area, and the earmarking of a $300-million endowment to promote medical research.

Lougheed led the Conservatives to four consecutive election victories, each one with increasingly larger majorities, the last one in 1982 taking 75 of 79 seats. Lougheed rejected pressure to run for the leadership of the federal Conservatives, a contest that was eventually won in 1983 by Brian Mulroney.

Lougheed announced his retirement as premier in June 1985, and resigned in February 1986. The Peter Lougheed Provincial Park in Kananaskis Country was later named after him, and an acute care hospital in Calgary is named the Peter Lougheed Centre.