CANADA

The man from Spirit River

GILLIAN STEWARD October 29 1984
CANADA

The man from Spirit River

GILLIAN STEWARD October 29 1984

The man from Spirit River

When the Alberta legislature resumed last week, Grant Notley, the scrappy leader of the tiny Alberta New Democratic Party, wasted no time in attacking Premier Peter Lougheed’s Conservatives. Notley charged that partly as a result of the 1981 energy agreement with Ottawa, Alberta’s expectation of oil and gas revenues over a five-year period had been reduced by $37 billion. At the end of the week Notley boarded a light plane for a scheduled two-hour flight to Peace River, Alta., about 70 km northeast of Notley’s home in rural Dunvegan. But the twin-engine Piper Chieftain never arrived. It crashed in heavy fog near Grand Prairie, killing six of the 10 people — including the 45-year-old Notley— and robbing the Alberta legislature of a defiant and cogent critic of Lougheed’s solidly entrenched administration.

Late Saturday there was still no indication of why the Wapiti Aviation aircraft went down. Search parties began hunting for the Chieftain after it was reported overdue on Friday, and the next day a helicopter crew spotted the four survivors—including Alberta Housing Minister Larry Shaben—huddled around a fire.

An intense, almost driven, politician, Notley was a lifelong social democrat who for 11 years sat as the sole NDP member of the legislature facing Lougheed’s massive majority. Notley, declared federal NDP Leader Ed Broadbent, “devoted his whole life to improving living conditions for all those he so ably represented in the legislature.” Born north of Calgary to socialist parents, Notley took a bachelor of arts degree at the University of Alberta and, after studying law for a year, went to work for the NDP. Elected party leader in 1968, he won the legislature seat for Spirit River-Fairview three years later. An unstinting critic of the Lougheed government’s resource-based economic policies and sparse social legislation, Notley was finally joined in the legislature by fellow NDPer Ray Martin after the 1982 election. The two made up the official opposition, facing 75 Conservatives and two Independents in the 79seat legislature. Once, when it was suggested that he give up his lonely life in opposition and take a job with thenPremier Allan Blakeney’s NDP government in neighboring Saskatchewan, Notely replied: “I’m an Albertan, and here I’ll stay. Before I hang up my shingle, I want to see Alberta develop into a viable [two] -party system.”

GILLIAN STEWARD