Colby Cosh on the past and future of the Alberta Progressive Conservative party:
On Saturday, as was generally foreseen, Jason Kenney became leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives. This sounds portentous and impressive. But one of the things that strikes you, since Kenney is proposing to (at a bare minimum) re-brand the Alberta PCs, is that their leaders are not exactly an honour roll of mighty statesmen. The party was successful and did good, and Albertans are grateful for its legacy. But they are, perhaps, grateful in the reluctant, compromised way one might be grateful to an ex-wife who was not much fun but helped the kids turn out well.
Peter Lougheed helped to change Canada’s destiny and define the compact between Ottawa and the provinces. Ralph Klein put the province on a competitive, economically diverse footing and established the fiscal health that a New Democratic government is now exploiting. But Lougheed’s electorally unsuccessful forerunners are forgotten by all but families and friends, and Klein’s successors all came to unhappy political ends.
Why, then, do Albertans speak so fondly of the Progressive Conservative heritage? I am afraid the answer is that older Albertans have chosen to forget it and younger ones don’t understand it. Peter Lougheed led a government that, owing to 1970s oil prices, had more revenue than it knew what to do with. THAT IS NOT A FIGURE OF SPEECH. Much of the art of Alberta government in the Seventies was trying to think up new, non-wasteful uses for oil money.
Most of Lougheed’s choices turned out to be very wasteful indeed after he left office. Those budgeting conditions have occurred only a few times anywhere in the annals of Western civilization, and they are never coming back. If they did, it would now be thought insane to follow a Lougheed program — make bad infrastructure and “value-added industry” bets, throw doomed loans at resource and tech companies, flood the cities with cheapo housing.