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Alberta elections: 1971 - Peter Lougheed grabs the torch

Albertans don't elect parties so much as anoint political dynasties. And the governments — led by some of the most colourful, popular and durable premiers in Canadian history — have tended to rule for decades. CBC Archives looks back at pivotal election campaigns in Canada's bastion of conservative populism; the glory and the gaffes, the landslides and the losers, the radio preachers and the man they just call Ralph.

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Voters don't seem "keyed up" about the election in 12 days but it might be because they've all made up their minds. Social Credit Premier Harry Strom is promising money for community centres and more homes for the aged. But, as we see in this CBC Television report, Strom and the 36-year Social Credit dynasty face a dynamic young challenger. Progressive Conservative Peter Lougheed is hustling hard and meeting voters, who each get a rose from his young pigtailed assistant. 
• Peter Lougheed did indeed topple Social Credit, relegating the once all-powerful party to the political sidelines. On Aug. 30, 1971, the Conservatives surged from six seats to 49 in the 75-seat legislature while Harry Strom's Social Credit took only 25.

• Lougheed portrayed Social Credit as an old and worn-out party. Youthful, handsome and athletic, Lougheed cut a much different figure than Strom, a 57-year-old courtly farmer-turned-politician who had succeeded Ernest Manning as Social Credit leader. Some called him "Uncle Harry".

• Social Credit ran on its tradition of familiar but prudent governance that included recent legislation to lower the voting and drinking age and protect the environment. Lougheed vowed to bring Alberta into the modern age with tax policies to "provide incentive and reward enterprise" including oil drilling and exploration. He also said Alberta should lessen its reliance on petroleum revenues by promoting the growth of other industries, and promised more money to help cities, the aged and the poor.

• The Conservatives grabbed the public's attention in several ways. Their slogan was NOW, a simple, powerful word that appeared everywhere next to Lougheed's face. To make its television ads, the party brought in Perry Rosemond, a Canadian living in Los Angeles who would later produce the CBC Television show King of Kensington. Lougheed blitzed the province in person, preceded in small towns by a colourfully clothed friend on stilts who announced the next premier was about to arrive.

• On election night, after the Conservative win was certain, Lougheed flew from Calgary to the capital Edmonton in a Lear jet. The crowd gathered to wait for him rushed up to the plane and was so boisterous that the stairs couldn't be lowered to allow the premier-designate to disembark. Finally, a member of his team fought his way off the plane, creating a diversion that allowed Lougheed and his wife to follow.

• When Lougheed established the Alberta Conservative dynasty, Richard Nixon was still president of the United States, the Beatles had only recently broken up and Charles Manson had just been convicted of cult murders in California.
• Social Credit would never again be a force in Alberta politics. The British Columbia Social Credit party fared better, governing for a total of 36 years between 1952 and 1991. The federal Social Credit party disappeared after its last MPs, all Quebecers, were defeated in 1980.

• The Alberta Liberals, who had won three seats in 1967, were shut out in 1971. The New Democratic Party, however, elected its first Alberta MLA, provincial party leader Grant Notley, in Spirit River Fairview. He was the lone New Democrat in the legislature for 11 years. Notley was re-elected three times and became Opposition leader in 1982. Notley died in a plane crash in 1984.

• Lougheed was a hugely popular premier until he stepped down in 1985. He left a rich legacy that includes the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund. He increased royalties that oil companies paid to the province for the right to drill, and diversified the economy beyond oil. Lougheed famously fought Ottawa and its despised National Energy Policy for more control over its natural resources and a bigger say in national decision-making.

• Lougheed was a rising star in legal and business circles when he became Conservative leader, at age 37, in 1965. Two years later, he honed his campaign skills in an election where the party won six seats, up from none.
• Lougheed played halfback for the Edmonton Eskimos in 1949 and 1950, earning $200 a season. He was never, however, a football star like the Eskimos quarterback Don Getty, who succeeded him as Tory leader and premier.
Medium: Television
Program: CBC Television News
Broadcast Date: Aug. 19, 1971
Reporter: Del Delmage
Duration: 2:27

Last updated: September 17, 2012

Page consulted on July 30, 2014

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