Peter Lougheed | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Peter Lougheed

Edgar Peter Lougheed, businessman, lawyer, premier of Alberta (born at Calgary 26 July 1928, died there 13 Sept. 2012). In 1965, at the age of 36, Lougheed was elected leader of the small Alberta Progressive Conservative Party. A successful political career at the helm of such a marginal party seemed unlikely at the start. By the time Lougheed took charge, the party didn't hold a single seat.
Peter Lougheed


Born to power, Lougheed came from the fourth generation of Lougheeds in Alberta. Sir James LOUGHEED, his grandfather, was the only Albertan to be knighted and the first Conservative to serve in a federal cabinet. He was instrumental in the creation of Alberta as a province in 1905. His grandson, who would be credited with lifting the province out of political and economic obscurity, shared his passionate concern over provincial control of natural resources and made it a touchstone of his policies when he became premier.


Lougheed studied at the University of Alberta, receiving a BA (1951) and LLB (1952). A noted athlete, he played football at university for the Golden Bears and briefly for the Edmonton Eskimos (now the Edmonton Elks). In 1954 he earned an MBA from Harvard University and was called to the bar the following year. He practiced law in Calgary before joining the Mannix Corporation (1956), one of Canada's largest construction firms, rising swiftly up the ranks to vice-president (1959) and then director (1962).

Alberta Progressive Conservative Party Leader

In 1965, at the age of 36, Lougheed was elected leader of the small Alberta Progressive Conservative Party. A successful political career at the helm of such a marginal party seemed unlikely at the start. By the time Lougheed took charge, the party didn't hold a single seat.

Combining conservative financial principles with liberal social policies, Lougheed rebuilt the party into a political force reflecting a modern, urban outlook. In 1967 Lougheed was elected to the legislature with the largest majority of any candidate. Five other Conservative candidates were elected along with him and together they became the official opposition. The following year Social Credit Premier Earnest C. MANNING resigned and was replaced by Harry STROM. Lougheed effectively characterized the Social Credit as burnt out, and in the next election (1971) the Conservatives were swept into office with 49 of the legislature's 75 seats. In each of the following elections of 1975, 1979 and1982 Lougheed and his party increased both their popular vote and their majority.

Premier Lougheed

Lougheed's first major act as premier was to increase the royalties paid to the province by oil companies. He was also aided by international events, as the OPEC cartel drove up the price of oil. From the start Lougheed revealed himself to be a tenacious negotiator in both business affairs and politics. He was also adept at managing relations with the media. Under his leadership the government focused on increasing Albertans' return on the wealth garnered from the province's natural resources, promoting industrial development and urban decentralization, and improving health care and recreation sites. This included the building of new hospitals, support for medical research, the creation of urban parks, and the setting up of the large "Kananaskis Country" park, which in 1986 was renamed in his honour.

One of his most significant initiatives in sustaining the quality of life for Albertans for future generations was the creation in 1976 of the ALBERTA HERITAGE SAVINGS TRUST FUND, under which a portion of oil and gas revenues was deposited in long-term investments. As part of his industrial development policies Lougheed spurred the development of the huge reserves of heavy oil and oil sands through the use of tax policy measures by direct investment. In 1978 the Syncrude Canada oil sands project - the world's largest single synthetic-fuels complex - was completed with provincial participation. The government created the ALBERTA OIL SANDS TECHNOLOGY AND RESEARCH AUTHORITY (AOSTRA) to develop improved technology for non-conventional oil production.

Lougheed was also interested in agricultural diversification, medical research and supporting the growth of small- and medium-sized businesses (SMEs). In 1980, with a $300 million endowment, his government created the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research, which to date has contributed more than $650 million directly to Canada's scientific community. In 1972 the government set up the Alberta Opportunity Company to fund high-risk, innovative SMEs that had been rejected by traditional lenders. By 2001 it had helped fund over 7000 companies and individuals.

During the 1970s Lougheed pushed for a stronger role for Alberta in national decision-making, one commensurate with the province's growing economic strength. He resisted what he saw as federal incursions into provincial jurisdictions, while remaining committed to a united Canada. His major confrontation with Ottawa over oil revenues ultimately led to the 1981 Energy Pricing Agreement and subsequent accords, which had the effect of ensuring that the federal government would negotiate over oil and gas prices and revenues rather than act unilaterally.

In the negotiations that led up to the CONSTITUTION ACT, 1982, Lougheed was a driving force behind the formula that gave no province a veto but which allowed dissenting provinces to opt out of amendments that would reduce their powers. Although later accused by Québec of having, on the so-called "Night of Long Knives," betrayed the agreement among the "Gang of Eight" (all provinces except Ontario and New Brunswick) to, in Lougheed's own words, "defend the provinces against [Pierre] TRUDEAU's steamroller tactics," Lougheed shared many of the concerns of Premier René LEVESQUE. He opposed the CHARTER OF RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS on the grounds that "the supremacy of the legislature must be preserved."


One of Lougheed's regrets about his years in office was that he had too little time to devote to his passionate interest in culture and education. But both came together in his support of The Canadian Encyclopedia, launched in 1985 to celebrate Alberta's 75th anniversary. Lougheed not only funded its research but also donated a copy to every school and library in Canada.

Albertans thought highly of Lougheed's managerial competence, integrity, and commitment to the province's welfare, as shown in his overwhelming electoral victories of 1975, 1979, and 1982. He dominated the province's politics as Manning had a generation earlier and gave voice to Albertans' frustrated pride and determination to be taken seriously on the national stage. He stepped down in 1985 to return to private business. At the same time, the "Red Tory" tradition that Lougheed represented was on the wane in the province and in the country.

In 1987, he and Donald S. MACDONALD headed the Canadian Alliance for Trade and Job Opportunities to promote FREE TRADE with the US, and from 1991 to 1996 he co-chaired the Canada-Japan Forum, at Prime Minister Brian MULRONEY's invitation. As someone who sits on the boards of companies with assets exceeding $230 billion, Lougheed is a singular figure in the corporate world, one who believes that Canada is more than the sum of its economic parts. Despite his fervent support for free trade between Canada and the US, Lougheed worried about the increasing imposition of American values on Canada.

In 2002 Lougheed agreed to chair Alberta's anti-Kyoto task force, on the grounds that the plan was impossible to implement, and advocated a Canadian-made solution. In another campaign Lougheed has raised concerns about protecting Canada's freshwater. In a 2004 speech he insisted the Alberta government must treat water - and not oil and gas - as Alberta's most important resource. He called on them to resist any temptation to export water to the United States.


Lougheed's list of honours is long. In 1971 he was appointed Queen's Counsel, in 1982, member of the Privy Council of Canada, and in 1987 he was made a Companion of the Order of Canada. He was also made Honourary Chief ("Thunderbird," 1971) of the Cree Indians and of the Blood Indians ("Crop Eared Wolf") in 1974. He has received eight honorary doctorates and served as Chancellor Emeritus of Queen's University. In 2001 he was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in recognition of his lifelong commitment to health research. In addition, in 2005, as one of Canada's "prominent champions of corporate investment in health research," The Peter Lougheed-CIHR (Canadian Institute of Health Research) Award was created to encourage young researchers at the beginning of their careers. Other honours include the naming of the electronics arts building of the Banff Centre for the Arts for Lougheed and his wife Jeanne.

Lougheed has sat on several corporate boards and since 2000 has been one of 13 members of the Trilateral Commission, a non-governmental policy-oriented discussion group comprising 325 members from North America, the European Union, and Japan. He served as President of the Historica Council from 2003 to 2007, a reflection of his ongoing interest in culture and education. In the years since his retirement from politics Lougheed has become a Canadian icon, respected for the values he brought to his political career: competence, astuteness, integrity, and an unwavering commitment to the welfare of the people of Alberta and Canada.

Further Reading

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