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Alberta Politics

NOW! 50 years since historic 1971 election that launched Peter Lougheed into the Premier’s Office

On August 30, 1971, the Progressive Conservative Party led by 43-year old Calgary lawyer Peter Lougheed were rocketed into government when they unseated the 36-year old Social Credit government led by 57-year old Harry Strom.

The front page of the Calgary Herald on August 31, 1971.
The front page of the Calgary Herald on August 31, 1971.

It was a shift that, until recently, had happened only once every generation in Alberta: a change in government.

Lougheed’s election represented a generational shift, with the voting age dropping from 21 to 18 years old for the first time, and an urban shift, with a handful of new urban districts added to the electoral map dislodging the disproportionate rural majority that had dominated Alberta’s elections until that point. 

As Ernest Manning’s successor, Strom inherited an aging dynasty that had governed Alberta since 1935. While he appeared open to new ideas, modernizing the long-in-the-tooth Socred government was a tall order.

In contrast, Lougheed embodied new ideas of a younger Alberta – or at least that’s what the mythology of that election tells us. His campaign was made for TV and the telegenic Lougheed could be frequently seen “main streeting” and running from door to door while canvassing for his party’s candidates. 

Social Credit tried to revitalize their look, with go-go girls and live bands at their election rallies, but once voters decided that change was needed it was impossible for Strom to turn that around. And the iconic NOW! slogan of Lougheed’s campaign tapped into that feeling.

The Lougheed PCs were not alone. They had the financial backing of corporate Calgary, including generous support from the Mannix Corporation, which employed Lougheed before he was first elected to the Legislature in 1967.

Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad "Experienced. Respected. A New Kind of Leader. Harry Strom"
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad “Experienced. Respected. A New Kind of Leader. Harry Strom”

The PCs won with 49 seats and 46.4 per cent of the popular vote, sweeping out Social Credit, which, with 25 seats and 41.1 per cent of the vote formed the Official Opposition for the first time. While the Social Credit Party would wither in the opposition benches and eventually shrink into a 4 MLA rump that would survive until the early 1980s, Lougheed’s first victory transformed Alberta politics for the next five decades.

The PCs would form commanding majorities until their defeat to Rachel Notley’s New Democratic Party in 2015.

Also elected in 1971 was NDP leader Grant Notley, who would represent the northern rural district of Spirit River-Fairview until 1984. The NDP narrowly missed out electing a few other MLAs in this election, and Notley would remain the party’s only MLA – and the only social democratic voice in the Legislature – until Ray Martin was elected in Edmonton-Norwood in 1982.

The Alberta Liberal Party, which had formed Official Opposition before Lougheed’s PCs earned the spot in 1967, were wiped off the political map and would remain in the political wilderness until 1986.

In politics timing is everything, and Lougheed lucked out. Massive windfalls in oil and gas revenues led to overflowing government coffers, allowing the PC government to make major investments in public infrastructure like hospitals, schools, universities and colleges. The Lougheed PCs founded the The Banff Centre, the Kananaskis Country recreation area, and even bought an airline – Pacific Western Airlines.

Alberta Progressive Conservative Rally Ad 1971 Election
Alberta Progressive Conservative Rally Ad 1971 Election

Lougheed’s government introduced a Bill of Rights, created the Legislature Hansard, and dissolved the notorious Alberta Eugenics Board.

The difference between Lougheed and some of his successors in Alberta’s Conservative dynasty was his belief that government had a positive role to play in society (a Reform Party Member of Parliament named Jason Kenney once criticized Lougheed’s legacy of “neo-Stalinist make-work projects.”)

Lougheed believed Alberta should behave like an owner of our oil and gas resources and that the government should collect its fair share of revenues. Royalty revenues were much higher than today, peaking at 40 per cent during his time as Premier. The oil companies complained but Lougheed was persistent.

“This is a sale of a depleting resource that’s owned by the people. Once a barrel of oil goes down the pipeline it’s gone forever. It’s like a farmer selling off his topsoil,” Lougheed once said.

Alberta Progressive Conservatives 1971 Election Ad "Peter Lougheed - Now"
Alberta Progressive Conservatives 1971 Election Ad “Peter Lougheed – Now”

Lougheed’s government also negotiated landmark financial investments from the federal government and the Ontario government in the oil sands that kickstarted development of the deposits when private investors would not take the risk. These government investments in Alberta’s oil industry likely helped save companies like Suncor when the international price of oil plummeted in the 1980s.

Relations between Lougheed’s government and Ottawa soured following the introduction of the National Energy Program, creating a political wedge that Conservative leaders have continued to crank ever since. But he always made sure he was seen as advocating for Alberta in a strong Canada and was a key player during the Constitution-making negotiations of the early 1980s.

The Heritage Savings Trust Fund is one of Lougheed’s biggest legacies. Today the trust fund is seen as a visionary move to save money for future generations of Albertans, which it is in a way, but it was also a result of a government that at one point literally had more money that it knew what to do with.

Lougheed commanded the loyalty of his cabinet, caucus and party – which built a political dynasty that would span four decades but also gave him a bit of an autocratic reputation.

PC MLAs would be required to share frequent local membership and fundraising updates with the Premier’s Office and Lougheed was known to make monthly calls with local PC Party association presidents in order to create a system of accountability with his local leaders. And there have also been stories that Lougheed kept undated and signed letters of resignation from his cabinet ministers in order to avoid having to fire anyone who became a political liability.

There is a Camelot-like mythology to Lougheed’s time in office. He towers over Alberta politics in ways that more recently popular leaders like Ralph Klein do not. While Klein was a populist, Lougheed was a builder. The oil money sure helped, but so did having a vision for making this province a better place.

Day Light Saving Time Referendum

Nothing is new under the prairie sun. In 1971, Albertans voted to adopt Daylight Saving Time in a province-wide referendum after voting against DST in a 1967 referendum. This October 2021, Albertans will vote whether to abandon the time change and permanently adopt Daylight Saving Time.

Newspaper Election Ads from 1971

Alberta Progressive Conservative Calgary Candidates 1971 Election Ad "Now is the time for a breakthrough"
Alberta Progressive Conservative 1971 Election Ad “Now is the time for a breakthrough”
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "A New Kind of Leader"
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad “A New Kind of Leader”
Alberta NDP 1971 Election Ad "You owe it to yourself"
Alberta NDP 1971 Election Ad “You owe it to yourself”
Alberta Liberal Party Calgary candidates 1971 Election Ad
Alberta Liberal Party Calgary candidates 1971 Election Ad
Alberta Social Credit Rally Ad 1971 Election
Alberta Social Credit Rally Ad 1971 Election
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad "We've Changed"
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Campaign Ad “We’ve Changed”
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad "Taking Things for Granted"
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad “Taking Things for Granted”
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad "It's a Big Decision"
Alberta Social Credit 1971 Election Ad “It’s a Big Decision”
Categories
Alberta Politics

Tick, tock, tick, tock. Opposition to Daylight Saving Time in Alberta since the 1970s.

Thomas Dang MLA
Thomas Dang

Edmonton-South West MLA Thomas Dang announced last week that he plans to introduce a private members’ bill into Alberta’s Legislative Assembly in the 2017 spring session that would abolish Daylight Saving Time. The biannual practice of turning the clock forward by one hour in the spring and back one hour in the fall has a long and controversial history in Alberta.

DST was introduced in Alberta after a 1971 province-wide plebiscite resulted in 386,846 votes (61.47%) in favour of adopting the change. This followed the first plebiscite, which took place in 1967 and resulted in a narrow defeat for the Daylight Saving Time change (248,680, or 51.25%, against the change).

While the time change is anecdotally unpopular, a CBC report suggested that lobbyists representing big-box stores, sporting and recreational goods manufacturers, barbecue and charcoal retailers, shopping malls and golf courses remain big supporters of Daylight Saving Time.

National Post columnist Colby Cosh chimed in today, taking a totally reasonable if it’s not broken why fix it? approach to the debate.

Since it was introduced in Alberta, there have been a handful of attempts by opposition critics and government backbenchers to abolish the practice or at least raise concerns about Daylight Saving Time.

A newspaper advertisement promoting DST in 1967.
A newspaper advertisement opposing DST in 1967.

In 1978, Spirit River-Fairview MLA and New Democratic Party leader Grant Notley tabled a petition in the Assembly from 36 constituents “living in an area of the province that comes closest to having the midnight sun,” which called on the government to hold a referendum or plebiscite at the time of the next provincial election.

In 1983, Walt Buck, an Independent former Social Credit MLA representing the Clover Bar constituency, asked in Question Period whether the Progressive Conservative government “if any studies have been done as to the feasibility of leaving daylight saving time year-round?

Premier Peter Lougheed was quick on his feet with a non-response to Buck, “I have to admit I haven’t had a question on that subject since possibly 1972, and I would be somewhat concerned to ask the Minister of Agriculture or the Minister of Economic Development. So the question is quite properly directed to me. I’ll have to take consideration and decide who will be the fortunate person to whom I delegate the answer.

Lacombe PC MLA Ronald Moore introduced private members’ bill in 1991 and 1992 which proposed the adoption of daylight saving time year-round. Both bills were introduced into the Assembly but did not make it further than first reading and were not debated.

In March 2015, Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville PC MLA Jacquie Fenske tabled a petition organized by Ruby Kassian calling for an end to Daylight Saving Time. More than year later, in December 2016, Vermilion-Lloydminster PC MLA Richard Starke tabled a petition urging the government to introduce legislation to repeal the Daylight Saving Time Act and require the observance of Central Standard Time in Alberta.

Daylight Saving Time now longer than it was in 1972

The first Daylight Saving Time was observed in Alberta at 2:00 a.m. on the last Sunday in April in 1972.

In 1987, Attorney General Jim Horsman introduced Bill 2: Daylight Saving Time Amendment Act, which moved the start of Daylight Saving Time to first Sunday in April.

In 2006, Justice Minister Ron Stevens introduced Bill 4: Daylight Saving Time Amendment Act, which moved the start of Daylight Saving Time to the second Sunday in March and ending the first Sunday in November. This was in response to the same change made by the United States Congress in 2005.

Categories
Alberta Politics

Alberta NDP should tap the brakes on Bill 6, its new Farm and Ranch Safety law

The Alberta government needs to rethink its approach to overhauling safety laws on family farms and ranches. Since it was introduced in the Legislature on Nov. 17, confusion about Bill 6: Enhanced Protection for Farm and Ranch Workers Act has triggered a significant backlash from Albertans in rural communities across the province.

Bill 6 would expand sections of the Occupational Health and Safety Act, Workers’ Compensation Act, Employment Standards Code and Labour Relations Code to apply to farm worksites. If Bill 6 is approved by the Legislature, WCB coverage will be mandatory and farms and ranches in Alberta will no longer be exempt from OHS laws. Alberta is currently the only province without employment standards coverage for farm and ranch workers.

Around 200 protesters gathered at the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 27, 2015.
Around 200 protesters gathered at the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 27, 2015.

Nearly 400 angry farmers showed up to voice their concerns about Bill 6 at a government-organized town hall meeting in Grande Prairie last week. The event was hosted by public servants and consultants with no MLAs in attendance. Western Producer reporter Mary MacArthur reported this week that MLAs will be present at future town hall meetings planned for Red Deer, Okotoks, Lethbridge, Medicine Hat, Leduc, Vegreville, Olds and Athabasca.

Close to 200 people, along with 2 ponies, 1 border collie and 1 turkey (see above), staged an afternoon protest against Bill 6 outside the Alberta Legislature on Nov. 27, 2015. To their credit, Jobs, Skills, Training and Labour Minister Lori Sigurdson and Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee waded into the crowd of protesters at the Legislature to hear their concerns.

Lori Sigurdson waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.
Lori Sigurdson waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.

It is clear that there are some changes that do need to be made to farm safety laws in Alberta. As is the case in every other province in Canada, the government has a responsibility to ensure that safety standards exist for all worksites in Alberta, including agricultural work environments.

But this is where the New Democratic Party government may have put the cart before the horse. It is unfortunate that the government did not choose to hold these public consultation meetings before introducing the bill. It seems that the NDP could have saved themselves a lot of grief if Agriculture Minister Oneil Carlier, Premier Rachel Notley, Ms. Sigurdson and other NDP MLAs had started this process by travelling to the rural areas of the province to ask farmers and ranchers how changes could impact them.

Danielle Larivee waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.
Danielle Larivee waded into the crowd of protesters outside the Legislature.

Under current safety laws, provincial officers are not allowed to conduct investigations when a workplace fatality takes place on a farm or ranch. The WCB is a shield to protect employers from lawsuits in case of workplace injury and should probably be extended to cover all actual employees of farms and ranches. And farm workers should not be exempt from being given the choice to bargain collectively, a right affirmed by the Supreme Court of Canada.

But legal changes also need to reflect the uniqueness of family farms and ranches.

Unlike other worksites, farms rely heavily on incidental and seasonal help during spring and fall from family, friends and neighbours. And by definition, work on a family farm will include work done by family members, some who will not be paid a regular salary and some who will be under the age of 18. It has not been clearly communicated by the government how these changes would impact the day to day operations of these family farms or whether exceptions will be made for smaller farming operations.

While some of the criticism of Bill 6 is rooted in hyperbole and hysterics generated by opponents of the government, it is clear that there is much confusion around this bill, which is a communications failure on the part of the government.

Ms. Sigurdson released a statement following yesterday’s protest at the Legislature trying to clarify the government’s position. “A paid farmworker who is directed to do something dangerous can say no, just like other workers in Alberta and Canada. And if they are hurt or killed at work, they or their family can be compensated, just like other workers in Alberta and Canada,” Ms. Sigurdson said.

The debate around Bill 6 also highlights a political divide between rural and urban Alberta, neither of which are monolithic communities. It would be easy for us city dwellers to cast rural Albertans opposing these legislative changes as being backward or uncaring when we read media reports of workers or young children killed in farm accidents. And comments by MLAs like Liberal leader David Swann that the current legal framework would make “Charles Dickens blush” probably do not help foster a feeling of collaboration, even if there is a hint of truth to how far behind Alberta is in farm safety rules compared to other provinces.

Alberta is an increasingly urban province. According to Statistics Canada, in 1961, 53 percent of Albertans lived in rural areas. As of 2011, 83 percent of Albertans lived in urban centres with only 17 percent of our province’s population living in rural areas. This is a massive population shift.

The recent provincial election marked a rare moment in our province’s history where MLAs from rural Alberta do not have a large voice in the government caucus. Twelve of the 53 NDP MLAs elected in May 2015 represent rural or partially rural constituencies. Most areas of rural Alberta are represented by Wildrose Party MLAs, who have taken every opportunity to attack the new government and advance the narrative that the NDP do not understand rural Alberta.

As most of their NDP MLAs were elected in urban centres, they should heed the advice that MLA Hugh Horner gave Progressive Conservative Party leader Peter Lougheed more than forty years ago.

David Wood observed in his biography of Mr. Lougheed, the Lougheed Legacy, that “Horner made one point that Lougheed and his colleagues have never forgotten: when you start believing that the people in rural Alberta are somehow different than the people in the bigger centres, you’re making a mistake. Rural Albertans come into the cities, go to concerts, shop in the malls: they’re as sophisticated and as aware of the rest of the world as any of their city cousins.”

Ms. Notley grew up in the northern Alberta town of Fairview. Her father, Grant Notley, was elected and re-elected as the MLA for Spirit River-Fairview four times between 1971 and 1984. Coming from rural Alberta, Ms. Notley should have an understanding of these changes could impact farmers and ranchers.

The government has a responsibility to ensure that safety standards exist for all worksites in Alberta, including agricultural work environments. It also has a responsibility to clearly communicate to Albertans why these changes are needed and how they would be implemented. The NDP would demonstrate good will to rural Albertans by slightly tapping the breaks on Bill 6 and restarting this process with a thorough and meaningful consultation about improving farm and ranch safety in Alberta.

Update (Dec 1, 2015): The government announced it is proposing amendments to Bill 6 that would:

  • make clear WCB coverage would be required only for paid employees, with an option for farmers to extend coverage to unpaid workers like family members, neighbours and friends;
  • make clear that Occupational Health and Safety standards apply when a farm employs one or more paid employees at any time of the year.