The recent passing of Peter Lougheed has prompted an outpouring of tributes for the former Alberta premier, and drawn attention to his extraordinary commitment to his province and his country. For all politicians preoccupied with their fiscal struggles these days, the tributes also underscore a valuable message: there’s more to leadership than merely balancing the books. Lougheed was an example of that.
Lougheed, who passed away last week at age 84, maintained an active interest in his province and country until the end. His span of influence was impressive. He was premier from 1971 to 1985 and was revered by Albertans for defending their interests, most notably in the province’s claim to oil revenues. For his home province, he remains an icon whom Albertans rightly celebrate. Premier Alison Redford, who has called Lougheed a mentor, described him as “a visionary, an inspirational leader who forged a path of success and prosperity in our province.”
He was also widely respected for his commitment to a strong nation.
Jim Lee, former P.E.I. premier who shared the table with Lougheed, credited him for supporting initiatives that built up other provinces. “He also went to bat for me with the federal government to push for Prince Edward Island to be the site of the Atlantic Veterinary College,” Lee told The Guardian. He also helped work with the Quebec government to bring power east to P.E.I.
Even in good economic times, visionaries are rare, but these days, with our prime minister and premiers focused on eliminating deficits and bolstering economies, it can be difficult to see beyond the ledger. Yet, if the accolades honouring Lougheed are any indication, we apparently still prize statesmanship and the optimism and qualities of generosity they can bring to the political arena.
Lougheed was a good example of a provincial leader who, by many accounts, tried to rise above provincial self-interest, even in the midst of Alberta’s own power struggles with Ottawa.
These are not easy times. With the federal government and the provinces attempting to bring their finances under control, they’re cutting jobs, programs and services — measures that tend to create distrust and feed an adversarial, rather than collaborative, political climate.
When people are worried about their jobs and feeding their families, who can blame them if they feel less generous toward others? Governments are an extension of that. When premiers are trying to manage with less revenue their respective provinces’ affairs, they may well be less inclined to feel magnanimous toward other provinces. Thoughtful leaders stay grounded in such times by recognizing certain truths: that their province or country is bigger than they are, and that, as prime minister or premier, they’re merely custodians of a position established to defend the greater good. They’ve been entrusted to act in the long-term interests of Canadians within their respective jurisdictions.
Obviously, within our federation, those interests will sometimes clash. But it takes a skilful leader to build on what we have in common. Judging from the statements of the prime minister, premiers and former premiers, Peter Lougheed was one of those leaders. That’s something our federal politicians should reflect on as they gather for another session in Parliament.