BUSINESS

Lurking in the Lougheed lair

Alberta waxes wealthy and its premier is pondering the national stage

Roderick McQueen October 5 1981
BUSINESS

Lurking in the Lougheed lair

Alberta waxes wealthy and its premier is pondering the national stage

Roderick McQueen October 5 1981

Lurking in the Lougheed lair

BUSINESS

Alberta waxes wealthy and its premier is pondering the national stage

Roderick McQueen

A police cruiser graced Calgary’s 8th Avenue Mall last week, its windows smashed by beer bottles and pieces of cement block thrown by some of the 400 beer-swilling kids at a south end block party. It was a bizarre mobile monument saying that a policeman’s lot is still not a happy one, or perhaps that the frontiers of lawlessness have moved to the suburbs. By contrast, a 13-year-old celebrated her birthday a few days earlier at the Calgary Inn. Among those invited was her horse, complete with hay and stall in the lobby. The guest lists of the two affairs were presumably different. Alberta is such a place these days, filled with the new rich and the same old poor. Executives wait for memberships in the best whispering holes, the Calgary Gold & Country Club or the Petroleum Club, for eight years, four times longer than it took Alberta and Ottawa to strike the $212-billion energy deal. Restaurant tables may be reserved for precisely V-k hours, after which time the place might be torn down to make way for something else. A heritage building here, after all, is one where the first coat of paint has begun to peel.

While small-town Alberta—Brooks and Leduc and Drayton Valley—has been suffering through the exploration cutback drought of the National Energy Program, Calgary remains a lush forest with more than 35 building cranes plying the skyline and another 30 high-rise applications pending. The half-block Greyhound bus depot site, purchased from the city for a modest $400,000 10 years ago, will likely bring $56 million when it is sold soon. And the whole shebang, as far as the mind can boggle, has been managed for the past 10 years by P. Lougheed, Prop.

In 1976, when young Joe Clark won the Tory leadership, the unhappiest man in Canada was Lougheed, who muffed his chance by deciding the country wasn’t ready for an Albertan. But is the Clark leadership now secure? Well, do refrigerators have windows? That’s

why folks around Ontario Premier Bill Davis talk discreetly of Project X and push for a decision. And that’s why Lougheed, despite all his public naysaying about federal politics, has moved from never to maybe. His next provincial coronation, probably in March, will leave him well poised to run federally when the Tories give Clark the golden boot at the 1983 general meeting. If either Davis or Lougheed paid attention to history, of course, they would remember that the three least successful of the

five Tory leaders in the past 40 years were also former provincial premiers.

But never mind, for here is Lougheed, chief teller on the $9-billion Heritage Fund, one-man ruler of the strongest party in the richest province darting through the crowd like a wily trout, basking in the glow of the audience. He has just told this Canadian Chamber of Commerce gathering that he’s prepared to apply patches to the energy tent that he and Prime Minister .Pierre Trudeau so grandly hoisted earlier in the month. There is nothing, so far, for the big companies who have little swack in Alberta, or the megaprojects, either, as producer and big customer alike roll out some of the same old whine, albeit a better vintage rhetoric than usual. Says Imperial Oil President Jim Livingstone of the recent deal: “The large print giveth and the small print taketh away.” Air Canada President Claude Taylor moved beyond the Bible but adopted an equally lofty tone, lifting a prime ministerial phrase: “Who speaks for Canada? Why

should so great a country lack a voice?” While the independents will get some concessions from Alberta, and the word is that Alsands will go ahead, Imperial’s $12-billion Cold Lake project will likely be downgraded to something less than planned and be renamed Cold Shoulder. And still the drilling rigs flee on truck convoys taking Highway 2 south to the U.S. border. More than 100 have disappeared, almost 20 per cent of the total in Alberta when the NEP was announced, including one the very day Lougheed spoke.

But Lougheed will hang tough through the complaint of Big Oil. As owner, he can afford to wait in a province where managing growth dominated the agenda during a three-day cabinet session in Banff last week, while the rest of the country pays him $60 billion over five years and worries about the mortgage. It was a deal in which Lougheed won everything he demanded, as he reconfirmed his jurisdiction over the industry and established the right to enforce production cutbacks. And while he has yet to call those people around the country he would tap in any run for Clark’s job, a line from Eric Nicol’s new play, Má!, that’s now wowing Calgary comes to mind: “Going into politics is like making love to a virgin— someone’s got to do it.”

In addition to portraying that barbed tongue and wonderful wit of “Ma” Murray, Canada’s best-known newspaper editor, Nicol’s eighth and newest play also brilliantly captures the optimism that is the West. “There’s big things waitin’ to be done,” goes Ma’s closing line. “And that’s a damshur.” How different from playwright René Aloma’s description of another place: “Toronto is like a pubescent young girl—it has everything but doesn’t know what to do with it.” Today’s Calgary is like a young buck who figures he’s run through what there is of life, just needing a few more yesterdays to realize there are exciting tomorrows to come. For the next 10 years, home-town boy P. Lougheed will be looking to manage his own new growth, too. And that’s a damshur.