Canada

‘And now... heeere’s Peter!’

Suzanne Zwarun November 10 1980
Canada

‘And now... heeere’s Peter!’

Suzanne Zwarun November 10 1980

‘And now... heeere’s Peter!’

Canada

At 7:15 a.m., the first reporters and photographers started arriving on Broadcast Hill in Calgary to await Premier Peter Lougheed, due to tape his message to Albertans in the wake of the federal budget. The curdled pink sunrise over the city that oil built was breathtaking. All Calgary was stretched out to see, from the cluster of downtown highrises, many with building cranes still dangling from their tops, to the hordes of housing units that have crept around the hill that was a horse pasture five years ago. Prosperity never shone so prettily. But

inside the CFCN-TV studio, production people were gearing up to record Lougheed’s warning that Albertans faced federal action that would leave Alberta bereft when the province’s diminishing energy resources were exhausted.

Nine days earlier, Lougheed booked a half-hour’s paid time on eight private TV stations to give his response to the budget. Exactly when and where he was going to make his speech was impossible to extract from his normally secretive staff. Eventually his office reluctantly conceded that he would tape his message at CFCN in Calgary, regarded by the premier as having the province’s best production facilities. CFCN itself claimed not to know precisely when; the premier had booked a studio from 7:30 a.m. “onwards.” The station’s cafeteria was more forthcoming-coffee had been ordered up for 10 a.m.

That slip didn’t deter the premier’s office in its quest for utter security. Although Lougheed departed before a Wednesday night caucus meeting in Edmonton was over and flew to Calgary, his Edmonton press secretary, Ron Liepert, was still maintaining Thursday morning that there would be no taping until afternoon. Meantime, in Calgary, the first of the Lougheed entourage was just then arriving at CFCN in a cab. Frank Calder, managing director of Lougheed’s public affairs bureau, and two beefy security men scurried through the waiting journalists in the

manner of the accused departing a trial. CFCN-TV Vice-President Terry Coles hurriedly rescued Calder, bristol board posters for the visuals tucked under his arm, and whisked the trio down a hall. Then, another CFCN vice-president, Norm Haines, arrived on their heels. “Nobody,” he said, gesturing emphatically to the receptionist, “goes beyond that door.”

By 10:30 a.m., the security men were patrolling the hill and news secretary Jane Simmons was guarding the front door. It would, she said, be impossible to photograph the premier on the set or in the makeup room. Why not? “Because we don’t want you to.” The hype, by then, had set off media hysteria. CTV was attempting to relay the program nationally; local CBC, snubbed by Lougheed, almost had to beg for a

feed—and had to run it free, directly opposite CFCN’s paid telecast in Calgary.

The premier and more aides drew up to the TV station at 10:45 and, with the security men shouldering him through the crowd, disappeared into a studio marked THIS SET IS CLOSED. Another aide allowed that Lougheed was too uptight to sit still for a photo session. Just in case anyone had telescope vision, the security men Scotch-taped cardboard over the glass doors in the studio.

Lougheed, who had chosen to speak from notes instead of a prepared text, took his time while the rest of the station scrambled to do its work around

him. The session, expected to take no more than 90 minutes, stretched into four hours because, as a production assistant explained, Lougheed wanted it letter-perfect. The 27-minute, 55-second speech was a somewhat jumpy patchwork of several separate takes. When he finally emerged, Lougheed looked as tired as he had when he arrived, but a lot less tense. He paused briefly for the cameras, then sped off to a delayed lunch, leaving skittish Albertans prepared for the storm he had predicted was coming. Some, leaving the TV station, were alarmed to see armed personnel carriers nipping up and down the freeway that runs past Broadcast Hill. The Lord Strathcona Horse unit, with a surrealistic sense of timing, had chosen Thursday for a student-driver exercise.

Suzanne Zwarun