The Hon. Peter Lougheed, the first Premier of the modern era of Alberta, passed away in his hometown of Calgary.  For Albertans he was an iconic figure:  talented, well educated, articulate – a man who could have gone anywhere yet chose to serve his home place:  Alberta.

In retrospect it is clear the Harvard educated Lougheed was a gem in Alberta politics.  His government of largely small town business people led by Alberta’s first generation of urban, and at least in their own eyes, urbane leaders, displaced a rural based Social Credit regime whose suspicion of big business and big government was eclipsed by the social and political upheavals of the 1960s and 70s.

Lougheed was characterized as the “blue-eyed sheik” for his insistence on extracting more rent from Alberta’s foreign dominated oil industry for the benefit of Albertans.  He used his government’s power to nurture a domestic based natural gas sector as well as establishing a successful world-scale petro-chemical industry.

Generous funding for cultural institutions, rural hospitals, and research institutes left a legacy of world-class facilities and museums across the province and work done by the Alberta Research Council and other government funded research initiatives laid the basis for the development of the Alberta Tar Sands.  An Environment Conservation Authority was set up to parallel the then world class Energy Resources Conservation Board.

His administration was responsible for setting up Alberta’s Heritage Saving Trust Fund to invest oil revenues for the future.  It reached a total value of around $12 billion dollars and then fell moribund under later administrations.  A few years later the country of Norway, copied Lougheed’s idea.  Although Norway produces 40 per cent less petroleum than Canada and has one-seventh the population, it has saved more than $600 billion in oil revenue to date.

Regrettably for grain farmers, the Lougheed revolution also threw out the healthy respect the Social Credit administration had for cooperatives including the Wheat Pools, orderly marketing, and the Canadian Wheat Board farmers had created to address an international grain market made up of companies which dwarfed the oil industry.  Under Lougheed’s Agriculture Minister, Dr. Hugh Horner, the wheels were set in motion for the destruction of the Wheat Pools and the end of the Canadian Wheat Board.

As the first urban led Alberta government, the Lougheed team simply took the boosterism of the Calgary Stampede and the American tin-pan alley cowboy mythology as historical fact.  Dr. Horner was set loose to restore a cowboy based Alberta Agriculture which had existed for less than 15 years at the turn of the 19th century.

Much of the good Lougheed achieved still survives in the cultural institutions he founded and the fossil fuel based economic wealth he established for his province.  However the thirty years war his agriculture Minister instigated against the institutions of cooperation and orderly marketing has now reached its conclusion with the destruction of the Canadian Wheat Board, the western Wheat Pools and all the hog marketing Boards so laboriously created by the farm community.

Last week in Manitoba we had the spectacle, not seen since the 1930s, of hundreds of pigs being slaughtered and put into landfills because they were worthless.  Grain farmers are just starting to realize what they have lost with the ending of the Wheat Board.

As Alberta’s new Premier struggles to repair the damages inflicted on the Province by the decades of feckless and ideological leadership that replaced Lougheed’s years in power, grain farmers across the west are learning the truth of the Shakespeare quote:  “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones.”

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