Lougheed remembered as ‘progressive thinker’

Local reaction to Peter Lougheed’s death mirrors that of elsewhere in Alberta and across Canada.

Peter Lougheed

Peter Lougheed

Local reaction to Peter Lougheed’s death mirrors that of elsewhere in Alberta and across Canada.

Tributes have poured in since Alberta’s 10th premier died last Thursday at the Calgary hospital that bears his name.

He was 84.

Stettler area residents Jack Hayden, a former Drumheller-Stettler MLA, and Jean MacDonald, co-owner of Ole MacDonald’s Resort, remembered Lougheed as a kind man and a visionary.

It was a sentiment heard nationally in the past week.

“Peter Lougheed was quite simply one of the most remarkable Canadians of his generation,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in a statement.

Lougheed, a Calgary-born lawyer and the Alberta premier from 1971 to 1985, leaves behind a profound record of achievement and influence on public policy.

In June, the Institute for Research and Public Policy named Lougheed as Canada’s greatest premier in the past 40 years.

He married Jeanne Rogers of Forestburg in 1952 and they raised a family of four children. Her influence is credited with raising the profile of arts and culture in the province.

Hayden said he had the opportunity to meet with Lougheed in Drumheller two years ago for the 25th anniversary of the Royal Tyrrell Museum.

“We lost someone very important,” Hayden said. “He was an amazing guy, such a progressive thinker — a real visionary.”

Hayden said Lougheed and his government received criticism at the time for spending that much money on a museum — in Drumheller, nonetheless.

“Today, the museum is the third most-known tourist destination in Alberta, only behind Banff and Jasper,” said the former tourism minister.

The museum attracts more than 400,000 visitors each year and in 2010 welcomed its 10-millionth visitor.

Hayden said Lougheed’s influence paved the way for Albertans to enjoy the highest average income, lowest taxation and best health-care system in Canada today.

“Although (Lougheed) has had many political accomplishments, what I remember most about him was his friendliness and his smile — he was so full of life,” Hayden said.

MacDonald said she met Lougheed multiple times when she was active in provincial politics and called him “positive and forward-thinking.”

“He was like a steamroller,” she recalled. “He got things done in our province.”

She said it was under Lougheed’s direction that the stabilization of Buffalo Lake occurred. Lougheed sent then environment-minister Ralph Klein to Buffalo Lake and MacDonald remembers taking Klein on a boat tour of the lake.

“Before Lougheed, there was no tourism ministry,” MacDonald said. “Tourism was just stuck in with something else.”

She kept in touch with Lougheed after Don Getty took office and, in later years, the Lougheeds came to Buffalo Lake for a family reunion at the Getty House, which MacDonald owned at that time.

“I got to know him and his family better that long weekend and will never forget what a wonderful and kind family man he was,” MacDonald said.

Lougheed came from an established family with deep political roots. His grandfather, Sir James Lougheed, was heavily involved in federal politics as a Conservative member. His father was a lawyer and, in 1952, Peter followed in his father’s footsteps in that profession.

With politics in his blood, Lougheed became leader of the fledgling Progressive Conservative party in 1965, defeated the decades-old Social Credit party in 1971, and created a political dynasty that remains today.

He was instrumental in laying the foundation for economic diversification that has made Alberta the economic driver of the nation today.

Lougheed was a champion for Alberta — well-remembered for battling with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau over the National Energy Program, fighting for provincial rights in the Constitution and establishing the Heritage Trust Fund. He encouraged funding and research in extracting oil from the oilsands near Fort McMurray and developing Kananaskis Country, where a provincial park bears his name today.