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Peter LougheedIf you skipped A20 of Friday’s Province or B3 of the Sun, you would not know that Former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed had died. Such are priorities of Postmedia.

I first met him at a Western Premier’s Conference, in 1976, at dinner. It was not one of my better moments. Bll Bennett cracked a one-liner just as I was taking a drink of wine and, as has happened to all of us with milk when we were kids, I shot the wine out of my nostrils all over the tablecloth. Bennett quickly said, “You can dress up these Kamloops guys but it doesn’t do any good.”

As minister responsible for constitutional affairs, I sat in too many conferences to count with Lougheed, present and a big force.

One amusing moment occurred at the Western Ministers Conference in Prince George, in 1979, I think it was.

During an intervention by Manitoba Premier Sterling Lyon he said, “As the Duke of Marlborough said, ‘publish and be damned.'” As is often my wont, I blurted out, “it was the Duke of Wellington.” This lese majesty brought silence for a second or so, then Premier Bennett said, “Some ministers can be replaced.” Hereupon Lougheed said, “Bill, I’ll trade you three of mine for Rafe.” Calm was restored!

Peter Lougheed was known as a stout defender of Alberta’s sole right to its natural resources. This, perhaps one might say obstinance, had deep historical significance.

Alberta had not come into Confederation as a political entity as had all the others, but by a federal division of federal crown land in 1905 that created Saskatchewan and Alberta. They did not, then, have control over their natural resources until they were ceded to them in 1930. After that, it was part of the Alberta psyche to demonstrate that control at every appropriate moment. At every First Minister’s Conference dealing with the patriation of the Constitution, Loughheed would make it plain that any attempt, however slight, to deal with Alberta’s resources would mean Alberta opposition.

Lougheed had reason to suspect the feds as evidenced by Pierre Trudeau’s Energy Program of 1980, where the feds did clearly interfere with Alberta (and BC) natural resources. Premier Lougheed responded by cutting back oil production. This head to head confrontation continued until 1984 when Prime Minister Mulroney repealed the program. It was the time Albertans had bumper stickers reading “Let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark.”

It was a more progressive development of the Tar Sands that happened on Lougheed’s watch. What a pity his policy wasn’t continued, for he stood squarely for this project to be developed by Canadian refineries to be used for Canadian needs. Had his policies been followed, there would be no discussion of pipelines in BC nor tankers on our coast. Lougheed argued this point to his last days, calling for local refineries – and moderation in developing the resource.

It was he who created the “rainy day” fund putting oil revenues away for moment when the revenues weren’t there and Albertans would need some extra money.

British Columbia scarcely agreed with Lougheed – especially on constitutional issues – but always respected him and listened.

Peter Lougheed demonstrated his ongoing influence in the recent Alberta election when with a week to go, he endorsed Premier Alison Redford. This move was the kiss of death for the Wildrose Party.

The word “great” is much abused and misused but it belongs properly on Peter Lougheed – he was truly a great Albertan, great Canadian and great man. I feel highly privileged to have known him and witnessed his contributions to his province and his country.

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