Alberta Politics

Nick Taylor was a giant in Alberta politics

He was never Premier of Alberta or even Leader of the Official Opposition, but Nick Taylor was a giant in Alberta politics nonetheless. The quick-witted oilman-turned-politican with swept-back silver hair and a droopy moustache was a fixture on the political scene for more than three decades and was probably one of the most persistent and determined politicians in our province’s recent history.

Taylor passed away last Saturday at the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary at the age of 92.

The Liberal Party’s voice in the wilderness

Nick Taylor Calgary-Centre Liberal candidate 1968 election Canada
A campaign poster from Nick Taylor’s campaign in Calgary-Centre in 1968.

Beginning his political career as a Liberal Party activist, with a stint as a trustee on the Calgary Separate School Board and a bid for City Council in 1964, Taylor made his first foray into federal electoral politics in 1968, nearly winning a seat in the House of Commons in the original Trudeaumania. He finished 301 votes behind long-time Progressive Conservative Douglas Harkness in Calgary-Centre. He placed further back in a second attempt in the 1972 election, but that was only the start of his political career.

Taylor jumped into provincial politics in 1974, defeating Edmontonian John Borger to win the leadership of the seatless Alberta Liberal Party. The party had been without an MLA in the Legislature since MLA Bill Dickie crossed the floor to join the Lougheed PC’s in 1969 (Taylor was Dickie’s campaign manager when he was first elected to the Assembly in 1963).

Appreciating some of the frustration expressed by some Albertans with the federal government at the time, Taylor told the Globe & Mail that Robert Stanfield‘s Tories might win the 1974 election. “Then,” he said, “I’m rid of the albatross of having to explain every asinine move Ottawa makes.”

Pierre Trudeau‘s Liberal government was narrowly re-elected.

Nick Taylor Trudeaumania Dynamiters Calgary-Centre 1968 Election
Nick Taylor and the Dynamiters (aka TNT – “Try Nick Taylor”) during the 1968 election in Calgary Centre.

But despite this comment, Taylor remained a Liberal Party stalwart and a fiercely pro-Canadian voice during the height of the separatist fervour that hit the Prairies in the 1970s and 1980s.

The new leader ran unsuccessfully in Dickie’s former Calgary-Glenmore riding in 1975 and 1979 before heading north of Edmonton to run in a by-election in the Barrhead stronghold of retiring Deputy Premier Hugh Horner. To the surprised of almost everyone, he finished just 350 votes behind rookie PC candidate Ken Kowalski.

Nick Taylor election campaign committee room Alberta Liberal Party
Nick Taylor, centre, stands with a crowd of supporters at his campaign headquarters.

Similar to his near-win in 1968, Taylor’s second attempt in Barrhead in 1982 was not as successful. Asked what he would have done if he had emerged victorious from beneath the Lougheed juggernaut, Taylor is quoted as saying he would “have demanded a recount.”

His rivalry with Kowalski became legendary in Alberta politics.

One story, whether it is true or not, took place at the grand opening of the Swan Hills Waste Treatment Centre. The local PC MLA proudly sat on the hood of the first truck as it rolled in to the facility. Taylor was in the crowd watching and yelled “here comes the first load!” leading to the crowd to burst into laughter.

His next attempt at elected office four years later in the newly redrawn neighbouring Westlock-Sturgeon riding paid off. Taylor was elected by 474 votes in 1986 and became the rarest of Alberta political species – a Liberal MLA from rural Alberta.

He led the Liberals to reenter the Legislative Assembly in that election, forming a caucus of four with Calgary-Buffalo MLA Sheldon Chumir, Edmonton-Gold Bar MLA Bettie Hewes, and Edmonton-Meadowlark MLA Grant Mitchell. The Liberal Party’s reappearance in the Assembly came just a few years after the National Energy Program mythically destroyed the province’s oil industry. 

Nick Taylor and Pierre Trudeau in Calgary Alberta Liberal Party election
Nick Taylor (right) on stage with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (left).

As an opposition MLA, Taylor brought his quick-witted and clever retorts to the floor of the Assembly.

As columnist Don Martin wrote in 2002, “[h]is most endearing incarnation was as a feisty Alberta MLA whose decade of deadly zingers triggered a no-laugh order from two premiers, forcing many a Conservative MLA to guffaw below their desk to avoid detection from ministers reeling under his verbal fire.”

After describing then-Forestry minister Ty Lund as “one of the finest examples of a Victorian environment minister I’ve ever met,” Taylor stung him with a nickname that stuck for years: Forest Stump.

He also legendarily got the word “cowbell” banned from being used in the Assembly after describing a group of PC backbenchers as having the “longest tongues and emptiest heads” in the building.

Nick Taylor Alberta Liberal Party leader
Nick Taylor poses with the local PC Party candidate.

“His wit made him very engaging and a great deal of fun to work with, but he was so much more than that. The nature of his wit was an indicator of his intelligence,” Mitchell, who served as party leader from 1994 to 1998, told Postmedia this week.

But 29 months after he became the first Liberal leader elected to the Assembly since 1968, he faced a leadership challenge that ended in 1989 with Edmonton mayor Laurence Decore becoming leader.

While trying to fight off his challengers during the bitter leadership race, Taylor described Decore as “Don Getty with glasses,” a clever quip and a gift to Decore’s political opponents that would periodically surface over the coming years.

When the leadership votes were counted, Decore captured 801 votes of the 1,444 cast, eclipsing Mitchell, who placed second with 385. Taylor, who led the party for the previous 14 years, finished a distant third with 259 votes.

Taylor had been usurped from the leadership but he remained an MLA for the next eight years, being re-elected by a similar margin of victory in Westlock-Sturgeon in 1989

But though he was no longer leader, the PC’s still desperately wanted to rid themselves of his quick-witted criticism and uncanny ability to embarrass the government in the Assembly.

Getty kicked off the PC Party’s provincial election campaign in Westlock in 1989, and a committee of PC MLAs drastically redrew his riding in 1993 so that he would have to run for re-election against incumbent PC MLA Steve Zarusky.

Nick Taylor (right) talks with a cowboy.
Nick Taylor (right) talks with a cowboy.

Taylor beat Zarusky by more than 1,500 votes in the new Redwater riding and joined by 31 other Liberals in the Assembly as the party formed Official Opposition for the first time since the 1960s.

As the mid-1990s approached, it was rumoured that Prime Minister Jean Chretien would appoint Taylor to the Lieutenant Governor’s post, but in the end it was a seat in Canada’s Senate that awaited him – a reward for his decades of public service and steadfast loyalty to the Liberal Party in the face of insurmountable opposition.

Nick Taylor and Jean Chretien Alberta Liberal Party
Nick Taylor and Jean Chretien (left).

He served as a Senator for Alberta from 1996 to 2002, choosing Bon Accord and Sturgeon as his Senatorial constituency.

Taylor remained a generous donor to the Alberta Liberal Party and was frequently seen at party fundraising events in Calgary. In his endorsement of current Liberal Party leader David Khan in 2017, he wrote “As a past leader of the Alberta Liberal Party, I learned how important it was to tackle the issue facing Albertans with integrity and compassion. The people of this province depend on you to stand up for their best interests.

Since he left to take up his Senate seat in Ottawa in 1996 there has not been anyone able to match his quick-witted humour and stinging retorts in Alberta politics or in the Assembly.

Nick Taylor Alberta Liberal Party convention
Nick Taylor at the Alberta Liberal Party convention in 1990.

5 replies on “Nick Taylor was a giant in Alberta politics”

Nick Taylor’s wit and sense of history in evidence in his response (excerpted below) to Environment Minister Ralph Klein’s motion seeking the Legislature’s endorsement of the sustainable development principles as set out in the Alberta Roundtable on Environment and Economy, from Hansard June 29, 1992 (Alberta Hansard 1689).

History shows that Taylor’s skepticism about AB Conservatives promises to protect the environment were entirely justified given the environmental carnage and losses since then, e.g. massive unfunded enviro. liablities like $100B for reclaiming the oilsands tailings ponds, the excessive loging and oil and gas industrial activity in our forests causing the ongoing decline to extirpation of wildlife like caribou and trout, and now the crazed coal mining proposals with Kenney Conservatives lifting the 40 year old Lougheed Con’s coal policy banning open-pit mining in the mountains.

Taylor would also be speaking out against Kenney’s parks closures, just like he opposed Steve West closing dozens of highway small park campgrounds in the 90s.

But below in his own prophetic testimony in the legislature responding to Klein’s AB Con’s environmental promise in response the international sustainable development agenda as per the Brundtland Report agenda.

Legislative Assembly of Alberta

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER: The hon. Member for WestlockSturgeon.

MR. TAYLOR: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I, too, would like to
give a qualified commendation, if there is such a thing, to the
minister for bringing it forward and assure him that the Liberal
caucus also supports the motion, particularly from the point of
view that it’s a declaration of good intentions. But coming from
this government, you’ve got to be a bit suspicious. The recidivism
rate of this government is not good. They have committed
crime after crime after crime against nature and the whole issue
here. To now come forward saying mea culpa, mea culpa – I
guess from good principles we have to accept their motion at face
value and hope that they indeed are reformed and are going to do
something about it.
When you see this government still subverting numbers 1 and
2 farmland right, left, and centre in the name of development with
no rules to try to preserve the land, when you see this government
also refusing to overhaul the municipal Act so that people can, if
planning is done that hurts the environment, have a petition
against a municipal government to force elections or force an
issue onto a petition, when you see this government refusing to
allow that to happen and when you see this government with a
natural gas export policy that would literally reduce our reserves
for Alberta residents to zero – in other words, zero protection
base – you have to wonder.
When you mention sustainability, well, sustainability should
also involve the development of our resources to the extent that
they’ve not all been exported out so that our children will not
have any access. This government took over from a government
that realized that in the future there should be a certain amount of
resources left in the ground or on the surface of the ground for
our grandchildren and great-grandchildren. But this government
follows a policy that if somebody offers you some yen, dollars, or
guilders for it, it’s for sale. It’s shipped out in the next possible
way around.
Also, when you see what the government is doing to our
countryside, our livestock industry, our farming industry by the
continual belching forth of effluent from our different hydrocarbon
plants out there, with very little disciplining or very little analysis
or monitoring of what is going on, you have to be worried that
it’s mere lip service.
For the lack of anything else, I think our caucus is supporting
it much as a congratulations to this government for joining the last
half of the 20th century as well as in a fond hope that they are
indeed going to try to do something. As a tribute to this minister,
at least he is not, if you’ll pardon the expression, tarred with too
much of a long-service record with this government. So whether
he is indeed articulating a clever, diplomatic, political announcement
to lull us into a sense of false security or whether he indeed
really thinks he can change that cageful of dinosaurs into some-

1702 Alberta Hansard June 29, 1992

thing progressive, I don’t know, Mr. Speaker, but I’m willing to
sit back and give him a chance.
Thank you.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER: The hon. Minister of the Environment
to conclude debate.

MR. KLEIN: Debate is closed, and I thank the members opposite
for their support of this motion.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

[Motion carried]

Here below are Klein’s remarks asking for Legislature’s endorsement. Almost 3 decades now of disastrous failure in reaching his claims. In retrospect, Klein’s rhetoric sounds almost Trumpian or like our own mini-version running the Con show now, eh?

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER: The hon. Minister of the Environment.

MR. KLEIN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As you know, my
colleague the Minister of Economic Development and Trade and
I are ex officio members of the Alberta Round Table on Environment
and Economy. Today it is my pleasure to introduce to you
and through you to members of the Assembly three representatives
from the round table who are in the members’ gallery today. They
are David Bromley, the founder and president of the Alberta based
environmental engineering firm David Bromley Engineering
Ltd.; Doug Cattran, vice president, manufacturing, hydrocarbons
and energy, Dow Chemical Canada Inc., and Donna Tingley, the
executive director of the Environmental Law Centre here in
Edmonton. This group of Albertans represents a wide range of
interests, views, and sectors of society all working together to
reflect a balanced approach to achieving economic, environmental,
and social objectives. I would ask that they rise and receive the
traditional warm welcome of this Assembly.

Sustainable Development

22. Moved by Mr. Klein:
Be it resolved that the Legislative Assembly endorse the
concept of sustainable development including the vision and
principles outlined by the Alberta Roundtable on Environment
and Economy in its report, Alberta: Working for a
Sustainable Future.

MR. DEPUTY SPEAKER: The hon. Minister of the Environment.

MR. KLEIN: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. As you know, the Alberta
Round Tableon Environment and Economy was formed in May
1990. I had the pleasure of tabling its first report in this House
at the end of March this year. That report included the round
table’s vision for Alberta, which described what Alberta will look
like when sustainable development is achieved. The vision is of
a province which is a member of the global community and a
leader in sustainable development. The vision is of a province
which ensures both a healthy environment and a healthy economy.
In other words, it would include an environment where the quality
of air, water, and land is assured and where our biological
diversity is preserved. It would include an economy which is
diversified, resilient, globally competitive, and environmentally
responsible, in which employment and other roles are meaningful,
productive, creative, and rewarding. The vision encompasses a
society in which market forces and regulatory systems work for
sustainable development. The Alberta envisioned by members of
the round table is an Alberta whose urban and rural communities
offer a healthy environment for living. It’s a place where
Albertans are responsible global citizens who are educated and
informed about the economy and the environment. It includes
citizens who are stewards of the environment and the economy.
Mr. Speaker, I suggest that we aren’t too far from the future
envisioned by the Alberta Round Table on Environment and
Economy. I have reached this conclusion as the result of several
recent positive developments, and I would like to take a moment
to quickly review those developments. Given the discussion of
sustainable development at the Premier’s Conference on Alberta’s
Economic Future and woven through the rest of the Toward 2000
Together process, given the initiatives undertaken by individuals

June 29, 1992 Alberta Hansard 1701

and communities throughout our province during the recent
Environment Week, and given the passing just Friday of the
Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act before this House,
it is clear that we aren’t too far from a future where sustainable
development is indeed achieved. It’s time we officially adopt the
round table’s vision. It’s time we make a commitment to its
vision and principles. It’s time we become involved in moving
our province toward a sustainable future by passing this motion
with a unanimous vote. Mr. Speaker, I would appreciate all hon.
members’ support for this very significant motion.
Thank you.

Thank you for that nice tribute and nice summary of Nick Taylor’s many years of public service to Alberta and Albertans. I realize it has been some time since he retired, so younger generations may not know much that about him and I learned a bit here more about him too.

I met him briefly in the early 1980’s and he was one of the people who inspired me for all the reasons you already mentioned – his wit, intelligence, persistence and just being unabashed in presenting a different view to the sometimes overwhelming dominance of the PC party at the time.

We choose the party with the most votes to govern and give them a lot of power, but we should never forget there are also other valuable and valid perspectives and Mr. Taylor was very good at not letting them and us forget that.

As you mentioned, his was a very interesting political path. He got elected as a Liberal from Calgary in rural north central Alberta. I think Conservatives often assume their rural base is fairly secure and take it for granted. Sadly, I think sometimes opposition parties miss opportunities because they do not see chinks in the armor like Mr. Taylor did. He didn’t take the easy path, but he didn’t let difficulty stop him and in the end had some political success.

I don’t think the Alberta Liberals under Mr. Decore and Mr. MItchell would have done as well after, if Mr. Taylor had not worked away tirelessly all those years in the 1970’s and 1980’s. They actually owed a lot to his determination and character.

He kept our political discourse, lively and interesting over several decades, as well as making us think and challenging assumptions and entrenched ideas. I appreciate his many years of public service.

Nick Taylor is one of the people who inspire me to push for center left politics in North Rural Alberta. Part of the reason I was excited to run as a Alberta NDP candidate in Athabasca Barrhead Westlock was there were people in my riding who had elected the leader of the Alberta Liberal party and an NDP MLA. When I ask myself what it would take to inspire rural north people to the left side, it’s probably going to be good jokes.

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