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On this day in 1971, Alberta woke up to an unexpected PC government

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Peter Lougheed, Aug. 30, 1971

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In 1971, today was the day that turned out to be the first day of most of the rest of our lives. After a spell, some of us may have come to the conclusion it would be the rest of our lives.

So give a thought, dear readers, to the Progressive Conservative Dynasty "founded" by Peter Lougheed on the evening of Monday, Aug. 30, 1971, leaving tout le monde political Alberta to wake up on the 31st to the revelation that 36 years of Social Credit rule had unexpectedly come to a screeching halt, the victim of voter fatigue and an imprudently called snap election.

Sic transit gloria mundi, the PC mighty dynasty too has now passed, not only from political power, but apparently from our collective memory as well!

Leastways, focused as they are on lambasting the NDP government elected on May 5 of this year for its many sins, a few real but most imagined, no one in the mainstream media seems to have remembered that this weekend marked the first anniversary of that momentous 1971 election since the PCs themselves passed from power.

One imagines that if the Tories had been re-elected on May 5 -- as apparently everyone expected, especially the former insiders now whining in the Edmonton Sun that the NDP hasn't hired enough political staffers to cater to their every whim -- the media wouldn't have failed to mark the occasion.

"IT IS 'NOW' FOR LOUGHEED," headlined the Calgary Herald, the new premier-elect's hometown newspaper, on this day in 1971. "36-year Socred reign is over...Stunning Alberta upset puts PCs in power."

And it was a stunning upset. Lougheed's inexperienced and fresh-faced caucus captured 49 of the 75 seats in the Legislature. They took every seat in Edmonton, and all but five in Calgary, leaving the Social Credit Party led by Harry Strom as a diminishing rural rump. Lougheed was sworn in as premier on Sept. 10.

Alert readers with sharp eyes will note that that the lead story on the Herald, pictured above, carried the byline of Kevin Peterson. Peterson went on to be managing editor, editor-in-chief and publisher of the Calgary Herald. Journalists don't often get to be publishers any more, as nowadays that's usually someone from the advertising department or a bright spark with an MBA. The conventional wisdom in the news business is that the Internet is the proximate cause of the decline of newspapers. I'm not so sure. See "forgotten anniversaries," above.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la meme chose. Political dynasties come and go, and some are more dynastic than others. This is the way of the world. We are fortunate in Canada to have a political system where these necessary cycles of renewal can be accomplished without blood being shed.

Notwithstanding what happened on May 5 this year, no one can deny that Lougheed's political victory in 1971 resulted in a long and successful run for his PCs that, for the first 14 years at least, delivered pretty good government to Albertans. After that, over time, the party succumbed to the same flaws that led to the demise of Social Credit.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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