Peter Lougheed, Who Shaped Modern Alberta, Dies at 84

Former Premier of Alberta Peter Lougheed
Peter Lougheed, former premier of Alberta, at the Spruce Meadows Round Table business conference in Calgary, Alberta on Sept. 8, 2008. Photographer: Larry MacDougal/Canadian Press via AP Images

Peter Lougheed, the former premier of Alberta who helped transform the Canadian province into one of the world’s largest exporters of oil and natural gas, has died. He was 84.

Lougheed, the 10th premier of Alberta, died yesterday from natural causes, according to a statement from his family.

Lougheed became premier in 1971 as leader of the Progressive Conservative party, leading the province until 1985. During his tenure, he revamped rules to encourage fossil fuel exploration and production and had a stand-off with then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau over the country’s energy policy. “Peter Lougheed was quite simply one of the most remarkable Canadians of his generation,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in an e-mailed statement. “He was a driving force behind the province’s economic diversification, of it having more control of its natural resources and their development, of Alberta playing a greater role in federation and of improving the province’s health, research and recreational facilities.”

The Harvard business school graduate and former player for the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League was chosen by 30 Canadian historians, political scientists, economists and journalists as the country’s best premier over the past four decades, in a survey done in June for the Institute for Research on Public Policy. His Progressive Conservatives have held power for more than 40 years, winning every election during that time.

Wealth Fund

As premier, Lougheed raised royalties paid to the province by oil companies. He also began to prepare the province for a post-oil era by establishing a wealth fund, the Alberta Heritage Savings Trust Fund, using oil and gas revenue.

Policies that Lougheed implemented included tax measures to spark oil sands and heavy oil development, government investments into research on fossil fuel production technology, and an investment in Syncrude Canada Ltd. to kick start what would become the largest single oil sands mining project, now owned by a partnership of oil and gas companies.

“His forward-thinking, progressive vision gave us the tools to succeed today and helped to propel Alberta into a leadership role in Canada,” Premier Alison Redford said in a statement.

A dispute over the National Energy Program led Lougheed to cut oil production after the Trudeau government put a cap on the price of Alberta oil. Still, he offered to reverse the move if Canadian oil supply was at risk.

“We will not put any Canadian in a position of being concerned with regard to supply,” he told Albertans in a televised statement Oct. 30, 1980.

Court Challenge

Lougheed also took the federal government to the Supreme Court over its policy to tax exports of provincial-controlled resources. The disagreement led to a drop in the province’s economic growth as oil and gas producers cut investment and production.

The province’s oil sands contain about 173 billion barrels of recoverable crude, the third-largest in the world after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, according to the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers.

After leaving politics, Lougheed practiced law as a partner at Bennett Jones LLP and served as the chairman of Keyera Corp. While he largely avoided making public political comments, he endorsed Premier Redford’s bid to seek re-election for the Progressive Conservatives in April.

Slower Growth

In 2009, Lougheed called for a slowdown of oil sands growth to lower inflationary pressures on the Alberta economy. Last year, he spoke out against exports of oil sands crude via TransCanada Corp.’s proposed Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline, in favor of upgrading and refining more crude in the province.

Lougheed’s paternal grandfather James was a federal senator and government minister who advocated for provincial control of natural resources and supported the creation of the province of Alberta out of the federally-administered Northwest Territories in 1905.

Lougheed is survived by his wife Jeanne, his four children Stephen, Andrea, Pamela and Joseph and seven grandchildren, according to a statement today.

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