I can’t really say I knew Peter Lougheed, but I met the man, and I can assure readers this much: he was no extremist.
So what's with Jim Prentice calling out our beloved -- sainted, even -- first Tory premier for his "extreme ideas and ideology?"
I refer, of course, to Prentice's accusation yesterday that the province's New Democrats are extremists for their belief, famously spoken in the 1970s by Lougheed and repeated by the first Progressive Conservative premier until right before his death in 2012, that we Albertans should treat our resources as if we are their owners.
Not only that, but, just like the Alberta New Democrats led by Rachel Notley today, Lougheed argued clearly during the beginning of the current fiscal mess that fair business taxes and royalties need to be part of the government's response to straitened fiscal circumstances caused by lower resource prices.
Prentice made his comments about extremists like Lougheed and the NDP as he kicked off the election campaign that almost no Albertans want -- except of course for the premier himself and his Toronto-based political advisors, not that very many of whom are Albertans.
To be fair, he was also including the Wildrose Party led by Brian Jean along with Notley's New Democrats in his scattergun accusations of "extremism."
"Albertans have the opportunity to make a choice: a realistic, honest plan or, frankly, betting our future on extreme ideas and ideologies," the premier said during some bus-borne speechifying after he arrived in Grande Cache in northwestern Alberta, a town where he spent a few of his teen years.
You could argue this statement is true in a manner of speaking, although not in the manner Prentice was speaking. "I've challenged those parties on the extreme left and on the extreme right to tell Albertans what they would do; to be honest," he said with astonishing brass for a leader who provides as few details of his own plans as possible.
Prentice's point, apparently, was that only the neoliberalized remnants of the moth-eaten Progressive Conservative dynasty founded by Lougheed almost 44 years ago have the antidote to the province’s economic straits, never mind that they were caused in significant part by mismanagement by the same old PCs.
Leastways, anyone else proposing anything else will now be smeared as extremists -- and possibly as Communists later if the campaign takes a turn against the decrepit PC regime.
Back in the spring of 2011, as the PCs were choosing the refreshing new management that turned out to be led by Alison Redford, Lougheed made some comments in an interview with Sheila Pratt, one of the Edmonton Journal's best journalists, that illustrated the former premier's "extremist" views.
Pratt's story ran under the headline "Consider tax hikes as oil, gas revenue falls, Lougheed says."
Since the story is no longer readily available on line, I'm going to take the liberty of quoting Lougheed's comments from it at some length.
For one thing, Lougheed told Pratt, Alberta needed to impose some order on the development of the Athabasca Bitumen Sands, instead of the Wild West gong show then under way, a legacy of Ralph Klein's years of mismanagement. That chaotic situation has only moderated recently because volatile oil prices turned out to be volatile, which as ever apparently came as a complete surprise to the Prentice PCs.
"No more than two projects should be underway at the same time, one in the early stage and one in the later stage, and I think that's very manageable," Lougheed had said, although he cautioned in his 2011 interview that commitments made to oil companies when Klein was premier unfortunately had to be kept. "Those projects on the books should go ahead, and then a policy announced that we would do things differently."
If the oil companies didn’t like it, Lougheed added, well, "after all, we are the owner and we have the mandate to do that."
This is the sort of thing the NDP would advocate and, as we know from Prentice's recent statements, that the premier would label as "extremist."
But imagine how much better Alberta would be now -- not to mention the provinces to which we outsource our cyclical unemployment problems -- if only one or two major projects were under way in an orderly fashion as Lougheed had suggested.
Then Lougheed moved on to the question of taxation, telling Pratt: "the decline in natural-gas revenues has been dramatic and the degree to which we are dependent on oil revenues, it is time for us to consider an increase in corporate and personal tax."
And remember, that was in 2011. Of course, things are much worse now, as Prentice keeps reminding us as he tries to force us to accept other policy responses that ensure the brunt of the pain will be borne by working Albertans.
Lougheed told the Journal reporter the new premier then being chosen would have to face up to dealing with these circumstances in the fall of 2011. Of course, we all know what happened next -- just like Prentice, Redford called an election instead of dealing with anything much except fixed election dates. Things went downhill from there.
Oh, and here’s just one more bit of "extremism" from Lougheed, in Pratt's words: "Lougheed also reiterated his stand that the province should set a policy that the bitumen should be upgraded in the province rather than shipped to the U.S. Each new mine should have an upgrader as part of its conditions of approval, he added."
Well, Lougheed is gone now. He died on Sept. 13, 2012. So the man named the same year by the Institute for Research on Public Policy's Policy Options magazine as the best Canadian premier in four decades is not around to embarrass Prentice with his common sense and pro-Alberta ideas.
Nowadays the NDP is really the only major political player focusing on promoting such "extreme ideas" as not simply giving our resources away to foreign oil companies.
As for Prentice, if Albertans listen carefully to what he's saying, they'll pretty quickly understand who the real extremist is around here.
This post also apperas on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.