The Real Legacy of Peter Lougheed

25 Sep

From TML Daily, May 11, 2012: The Myth of Alberta’s “Camelot”
Ruling Circles Proclaim Peter Lougheed
All-Time Best Salesman for the Monopolies

– Dougal MacDonald –

Huge rally at Alberta Legislature during 1980 provincial employees strike.
(Alberta Labour History Institute)
The recent outpouring of admiration for Peter Lougheed, Premier of Alberta from 1971 to 1985, and the efforts to link current Premier Alison Redford to Lougheed and his “vision” for Alberta raises the question of what Lougheed stood for, and what is behind his promotion at this time.

With great fanfare, the monopoly media announced May 3 that a poll has concluded that “by a landslide” the “greatest” provincial premier in the history of Canada was Alberta’s Peter Lougheed. Lougheed is hailed as the person who “built modern Alberta,” totally ignoring the fact that it was the working class and people who built Alberta. The Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP)[1] conducted the poll and based it on the opinions of a panel of thirty “eminent historians, political scientists, economists, journalists and policy advisors.”[2] The panel rated the premiers on “nine leadership categories: vision for their province; ability to win elections; management of provincial finances; managing the economy; building infrastructure; communication skills; relations with fellow premiers; federal-provincial relations; and the extent of their legacy.”

Since Lougheed resigned in 1985, the monopolies have proliferated a mythology that the Lougheed Era was a time of unprecedented prosperity when all the working people in Alberta were well looked after and lived great lives, some kind of wonderful “Camelot” that everyone should now aspire to return to. This myth is pushed even though this was the same era when, for example, the Alberta Labour Act was amended (1983) to eliminate the right to strike for firefighters and hospital employees, deny university faculty their right to join a union, impose compulsory arbitration, and require arbitrators to consider government policy, the employer’s ability to pay and non-union wages. The amended Labour Act also allowed suspension of the collection of dues if employees participated in “illegal” strike action.

To further polish up the myth of the Lougheed Era, a contrast is drawn with the blatant slash and burn policies of the Klein Era, although during his time Klein was also promoted as a “man of the people.” The main trick is that instead of clarifying how each provincial regime serves the needs of the energy monopolies by implementing particular policies at particular times in history, it is suggested that somehow Lougheed was an exception who fought for the interests of working people against the foreign oil monopolies. But Lougheed was just as much the champion of the monopolies as Redford, Klein, Manning or any other Alberta premier, and this is the real reason he is now being awarded a new “honour.”

Lougheed took leadership of Alberta’s moribund Progressive Conservative (PC) party in 1965 and led the PCs to their initial victory in Alberta in 1971, winning 49 seats to defeat and later destroy the 36-year Social Credit dynasty. He remained premier until 1985, beginning an unbroken period of Tory rule to the present day, and is still dusted off when it serves the monopolies. During the April 2012 Alberta provincial election, when polls and pundits were falsely heralding a Wildrose victory over the PCs, Lougheed promoted incumbent PC Premier Alison Redford in a CTV interview: “She’s positive and she’s a positive thinker, and she has an up-to-date view of the province.” Redford will be the main speaker at Lougheed’s June 6 award dinner in Calgary.

The Lougheed government’s election in 1971 was not a victory for the people but mainly for the home-grown Alberta energy and other capitalists who wanted a larger share of the revenues from energy exploitation being siphoned off by the foreign-owned monopolies. The Manning Social Credit government heavily favoured foreign monopolies such as Exxon through state administrative structures like the Texas-inspired Alberta Oil and Gas Conservation Board which allocated exploration and development rights and regulated oil and gas production. The ideological climate of the Cold War smoothed the way for U.S. control of Alberta oil and gas, with the Manning regime invoking the “security” of the continent to justify pro-U.S. policies. One example is the special 1951 law enacted by the province, under pressure from the U.S Department of Defence, guaranteeing natural gas supplies to the Anaconda copper smelters in Butte, Montana.

Exxon/Imperial Oil’s major oil strike at Leduc #1 in 1947 was a major turning point in the Alberta economy, shifting it dramatically from a dependence on agriculture to a dependence on oil and natural gas, which accounted for over half the new jobs created in Alberta in the 1960s. Unable to influence the Manning regime as much as they desired, homegrown Alberta capitalists such as Mannix, the Southerns of ATCO,[3] Bob Blair of the Alberta Gas Trunk Line, and Calgary oilmen such as the Seamans of Bow Valley Industries, manoeuvred Lougheed into power so as to gain more control over the state machine and use it to further their own goals. At that time, the state was serving two roles: to suppress the working class and people and to sort out the contradictions among the various sections of the ruling class.

One of Lougheed’s first steps, once in power, was to replace the old Social Credit deputy ministers in the state machine with his own people. For example, he selected Alan “Chip” Collins, former president of Mannix subsidiary Manalta Coal, as his deputy treasurer. He then embarked on a major state-subsidized industrialization and diversification program, largely within the energy industry. The 1970s were years of major growth in the energy industry, which earned $18 in net income for every $100 earned in 1972 and $42 in 1980. Recorded increases in after-tax profits in 1979 and 1980 were 53.8 per cent and 31 per cent, respectively. Many fortunes were made from drilling and exploration, providing equipment and services for the oil patch, investing in start-up companies, and so on.

At the same time, Lougheed did not oppose Exxon and other foreign energy monopolies. For example, in 1974, his government established the state-owned Alberta Oil Sands Technology and Research Authority (AOSTRA). Publicly-funded AOSTRA perfected the now widely-used in situ steam-assisted gravity drainage process (SAGD), an enhanced oil recovery technology for producing heavy oil and bitumen from the oil sands, then handed it over to Imperial Oil. Another example is the opening of Imperial Oil/Syncrude’s oil sands project on September 15, 1978. To finance Syncrude’s interests, Lougheed created the state-owned Alberta Energy Company in 1975, which paid for 80 per cent of the pipeline to ship Syncrude product from Fort McMurray to Edmonton, 50 per cent of the $100 million power facility required to fuel the Syncrude plant, and 20 per cent of the Syncrude plant itself. Alberta Energy was handed over to private interests in 2002, becoming natural gas producer Encana, which later spun off oil sands monopoly, Cenovus.

The Workers’ Collective Memory

Rally organized by United Nurses of Alberta in 1980, during a strike caused by the Lougheed government.
(Provincial Archives of Alberta)
The workers’ have a collective memory of the Lougheed years, and it is not of a “visionary” acting on behalf of all Albertans. During the Lougheed years, workers in Alberta fought tenaciously in defence of their rights against a government which had come to power to champion the interests of the Alberta-based owners of capital, particularly in the oil and gas sector. Lougheed was one of the first, if not the first premier in Canada to openly declare himself a salesman for the monopolies, declaring that the Alberta government was directly in the oil marketing business. His negotiations to secure the building of Syncrude included changes to the labour code, essentially written by the owners of capital who formed the Syncrude consortium, to champion monopoly right.

Syncrude insisted as a condition of the project that it would require a no-strike agreement with the construction unions building the plant. If a voluntary agreement could not be reached, Syncrude insisted that the government legislate amendments to the labour laws for special project status which would allow a specific site agreement with no-strike provisions. In the summer of 1974, on Syncrude’s insistence, the government changed the labour code, providing the guarantee that Syncrude demanded as a condition of the project.

Nowhere in the legislation was there any guarantee that when a project was designated for a separate agreement, that it would be a union site. The intent and effect of the legislation was to ensure the unrestricted rights of the oil and construction monopolies to “labour peace” in the oil sands. This special project status legislation was used by Canadian Natural Resources Limited (CNRL), to shut out the unions on the Horizon oil sands project site and sign an agreement with the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC).

The Lougheed years saw the government preside over unprecedented union-busting.

In 1984, the Contractors’ Association locked out building trades across the province when their contracts expired. Twenty-four hours later they declared that the collective agreements were null and void, and unilaterally cut wages by 50 per cent and even more. The anti-worker labour laws to this day permit the contractors to establish as many paper companies as they like and force the unions to recertify what is really the same company over and over again. Work can simply be transferred from a unionized company to a non-union “spin-off.” Many workers still remember this bitter period, both for its hardships and the courageous battles fought in defence of the rights of all. Building trades workers organized mass demonstrations at the Legislature, and carried out actions on construction sites. They were known as a force which stood as one with workers of every sector fighting for their rights. For example, in 1986 hundreds of out-of-work construction workers stood as one with the workers at Gainers, returning day after day for the historic “Battle of 66th Street” to defend the strike and keep scab replacement workers out of the plant.

Prior to his election in 1971, Lougheed had promised full collective bargaining rights for public sector workers. But instead his years in office saw the passage of laws which criminalized health care workers and provincial government employees, making strikes illegal for hospital workers through the passage of Bill 44 in 1983 and for provincial government employees through the Public Service Employees Relations Act in 1977.

The United Nurses of Alberta (UNA) were forced on strike twice during the Lougheed era. During the first strike in 1980, the government ordered the nurses back to work after three days through an order in council. The nurses stood firm and refused to return to work. The determination of the nurses and overwhelming public support for their courageous stand forced the government to back down and six days later UNA reached a negotiated settlement which met virtually all of their demands.

Button produced by the Alberta Federation of Labour during the campaign against Bill 44. (Alberta Labour History Institute).
Two years later, the Tory government tried to force the nurses to participate in a government-supervised vote to supercede the vote the union had organized according to its constitution. UNA resisted this attack on its members’ right to decide, and the government retaliated with legislation making it a criminal offence for a union to boycott a government-supervised strike vote. Nurses went on strike again in 1982 and this time the government used back-to-work legislation which included large fines, decertification of the union and banning workers from holding office in or working for a trade union in Alberta for two years for defiance.
These attacks were followed by the passage of Bill 44 in 1983 which made strikes illegal for all hospital workers. Bill 44 provided for huge fines and suspension of dues collection for up to six months for any union which upheld its members’ right to decide their wages and working conditions. Strikes of hospital workers have been illegal since that time.

The first strikes of provincial government employees also took place during the Lougheed era, beginning with the strike of the Alberta Liquor Board Employees and a two-day walkout of direct government employees angered by the government’s bad faith bargaining in 1980. The Public Service Employees Relations Act made strikes illegal and provided for compulsory arbitration in which the arbitrator had to consider government fiscal policy. Calgary teachers were also subjected to back-to-work legislation in 1980 when they walked out demanding that the government address the question of class size, a battle which teachers are still fighting to this day.

The Klein years are remembered for their brutal assaults on public sector workers and the privatization of many public services. But the mythology of the golden years of Peter Lougheed has pushed into the background the fact that between 1983 and 1984, layoffs of public sector workers had reduced the membership of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees (AUPE) by 10 per cent.

Workers should discuss what is behind this rewriting of history, especially the fact that it is designed to convince workers that there is no need to develop their own independent working class politics and new direction for the economy. The Lougheed era represents the old, not the new which can only flourish on the basis that the workers take up the responsibility to lead the whole society by advancing a program to resolve the problems facing society in a manner that favours the people, not the rich.

For Your Information: Peter Lougheed
Peter Lougheed was already part of the Alberta ruling circles when he became premier in 1971. Coming from an old Calgary family, he entered politics in the 1960s following his grooming as vice-president of Alberta’s privately-owned Mannix Corporation, one of Canada’s largest construction monopolies and a major pipeline builder. Lougheed’s mentor, owner Fred Mannix, was one of four major capitalists who in 1970 founded Alberta’s Canada West Foundation, a research centre for the home-grown western monopolies.[4] Peter Lougheed’s brother, Don, was senior vice president of Imperial Oil from 1975-81. Imperial is the Canadian subsidiary of Rockefeller’s Exxon (formerly Standard Oil of New Jersey) which struck the Leduc #1 oil well in 1946 and currently runs Syncrude, Alberta’s largest oil sands monopoly.

Exxon first invaded Alberta through Imperial’s 1920 takeover of Calgary Petroleum Products (CPC), which hit the Dingman Well in 1914, the first major oil strike in Alberta’s Turner Valley. CPC was co-founded by Peter’s grandfather, Senator James Lougheed, future Canadian Prime Minister R. B. Bennett (Lougheed’s law partner), and rancher A. E. Cross. James Lougheed was one of Calgary’s leading capitalists. He was lawyer for the dominant CPR, Bank of Montreal and Hudson’s Bay Company, director of other major Canadian companies and an investor in numerous enterprises, including Calgary Power and the Calgary Herald and Calgary Albertan newspapers. During the creation of the province of Alberta, he led the campaign for provincial control of mineral rights.[5]

After handing over the PC premiership to Imperial Oil alumnus Don Getty in 1985, Peter Lougheed joined his grandfather’s Calgary law firm, now called Bennett Jones. He has since served as a director of many monopolies, including Royal Bank of Canada (the “oil” bank), the Bush and CIA-linked Carlyle Group, ATCO, Bechtel Canada, Burlington Resources, Canadian Hunter, CP Limited, Luscar Coal (CEO), Norcen Energy, Northern Telecom and Pacific Western Airlines. Currently, his main position is chairman of Keyera, a 1998 energy spin-off from Gulf Canada Resources. Lougheed was Co-Chair of the private sector group that tried to sell the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement to the Canadian people in 1988.

Due to his involvement in events related to the patriation of the Constitution Act (1982), Lougheed has presided over a number of Constitutional conferences, including the conference sponsored by the Business Council on National Issues (now called the Canadian Council of Chief Executives) in 1996. He is Canadian Co-Chair of the North American Forum, which annually brings together “leaders and experts from government, business and other communities to discuss the strategic challenges facing the United States, Mexico and Canada.” George Schultz, U.S. Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan and former CEO of Bechtel, is the U.S. co-chair. Lougheed is a member of the U.S. Trilateral Commission, a think tank founded by David Rockefeller in 1973 to advance the economic interests of the monopolies in U.S., Europe and Japan.


1. The IRPP, founded 1972, is Canada’s oldest public policy think tank. It purports to be non-partisan but its board of directors is rife with representatives of the Canadian ruling circles: Jim Dinning, former Alberta Minister of Education and CEO of Canada West Foundation; John Manley, CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives; Barbara McDougall, former Minister of State for Privatization and director of Stelco; Anne McClellan, former Minister of Justice and Deputy Prime Minister; Jacques Menard, Chairman of BMO Nesbitt Burns; and Paul Tellier, who served in the Mulroney government and led the privatization of the Canadian National Railway.

2. The panel included Thomas Axworthy, former chief speech writer to Pierre Trudeau; Thomas Courchesne, neo-liberal economist; David Emerson, former minister in the Harper government; Roger Gibbins, CEO of Canada West Foundation; and Paul Tellier. For a complete list of panelists and their affiliations, follow this link.

3. In 1980, Lougheed facilitated ATCO’s purchase of U.S.-owned International Utilities’ controlling shares in Calgary Power (now Transalta) and Canadian Utilities. ATCO received a loan from the newly created state-owned Alberta Heritage Trust Fund to buy the shares. This was followed by substantial increases in utility fees through the state-owned Public Utilities Board. Lougheed became a director of ATCO after stepping down as premier.

The other founders were G. Max Bell who accumulated his considerable fortune mainly through Turner Valley oil, FP newspaper chain, Alberta Eastern Natural Gas, and the CPR; A.J.E. Child, who took over Alberta-based Burns Foods in 1986; and James Richardson, head of the Winnipeg grain merchant family.

5. Alberta did not obtain full control of its resources until 1930.

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