Peter Lougheed, back in the day

The Big Guy has spoken. And he says: “Vote for Alison Redford.”

I don’t mean God. Bigger than God … and with a way better reputation around here. Look up! Look waaaaaaay up!

I’m talking about Peter Lougheed.

Peter Lougheed, the first Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta, who started it all 41 years ago, has entered the fray, coming down from Mount Olympus in Calgary this Friday the 13th to endorse the troubled candidacy of Alison Redford.

In the Alberta context, it’s a bit like the Pope endorsing a candidate running for Catholic school trustee in the Diocese of Elk’s Eyebrow, Alberta.

In an interview yesterday afternoon with CTV Calgary, Lougheed didn’t just support Redford, he compared her to his own younger self.

“She’s a positive thinker and she has an up-to-date view of the province,” he also told CTV … and Albertans. “She knows the issues, she knows the province, she has had great experience internationally and had a great feel for Canada at large.”

And speaking of the Pope, Lougheed did sound mildly pontifical when he admonished former Tories who have abandoned the One True Conservative Party for the shiny evangelicalism of the Wildrose crowd. “I want them to think about it and I want them to listen carefully to what Alison Redford is saying, to reflect on what I’ve been saying, to look forward to an Alberta in the future.” (Emphasis added.)

At 83, Lougheed is no spring chicken, but according to the CTV story, he’s been out door-knocking for Redford.

All kidding aside, this is probably a more significant development at this point in the PCs’ bumpy campaign than any other endorsement could be. Lougheed remains a revered figure in Alberta, not so much for knocking off Social Credit 41 years ago (which after all by 1971 had become just another conservative party) but for the things he did in office.

You can’t drive more than a few dozen miles in rural Alberta — sometimes less — without coming across one of the modern hospitals his government littered the place with. And he was a guy who didn’t hesitate to step into the market if it was in the interests of the people who elected him — as he did when he nationalized Pacific Western Airlines to keep it in Alberta and serve the northern communities Air Canada ignored. What “conservative” government would do that today?

Lately, he’s been a thorn in the side of a number of his own party’s movers and shakers for their expensive, environmentally harmful, pedal-to-the-metal approach to development of the Athabasca bitumen sands — which he himself played a key role in beginning. (The development, that is, not the sands, although you’re forgiven if you wondered.)

Lougheed’s intervention comes at a desperate moment for his party. Redford faces the first serious challenge to Tory hegemony in Alberta since Liberal Laurence Decore briefly flashed across the firmament in 1992. Like Decore, Danielle Smith and the well-funded petrocrats of her Wildrose Party are challenging the government from the right, this time the far right.

And in that regard, too, Lougheed’s intervention seems oddly timely — for Smith surely represents a return to the Fifties sensibilities of Social Credit, after it had cast off the revolutionary fervour of Bill Aberhart and Major Douglas like an old Green Shirt, and taken up with the hyper-conservative E.C. Manning.

Lougheed was asked, but he had nothing to say about Smith. As my late mother used to advise, “if you haven’t got something nice to say, don’t say anything at all!” (She would be disappointed by this blog.)

Lougheed symbolizes an era when real Conservatives could be progressive, and constructive too.

You could shrug it off if Redford had been endorsed by Lougheed’s successor and fellow Edmonton Eskimos veteran, Don Getty. (In fact, she has been. Getty, 77, told the Calgary Herald, “I’m quite impressed by Alison.”) In the bad old days, Getty’s critics would have sniffed and observed, unjustly, that he played too many games without a helmet.

But if Lougheed’s entreaties don’t sway some Alberta voters, then, Toto, we really aren’t in Kansas any more!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...