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Lougheed helped save Canada's democracy

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I knew the late Peter Lougheed. As a matter of fact I can truthfully name-drop and say I had something more than a remote relationship with the late distinguished former premier of Alberta.

The last time I saw Lougheed was in the early 2000s at the Butchart Gardens Restaurant on Vancouver Island. I was being hosted at a birthday dinner by my daughter and son-in-law. By sheer coincidence, Lougheed and his party were at an adjacent table and my hosts were visibly impressed when he recognized me and gave me a warm greeting.

We spent more than a few minutes recalling old times. I had attended several federal-provincial conferences where he had been present, and we did get to know each other. In particular, I filled in for Ed Schreyer at a premiers' meeting, and it was this particular meeting that was the basis of most of our chit-chat at the dinner party.

Lougheed jokingly remarked that he and I monopolized the discussion at the meeting. This was his polite and subtle way of reminding me that I talked too much. Knowing myself, this was probably true.

Peter Lougheed was elected leader of the Alberta Conservatives and to the Alberta legislature in 1967. I was elected to the Manitoba legislature in 1966 and became a cabinet minister in 1969. Lougheed became Alberta's premier in 1971. Chronologically, we were contemporaries in Canadian politics until 1981 when the electorate ousted me.

Although Lougheed's accomplishments make mine appear rather picayune, there are some historical parallels and anecdotes that are worth mentioning. When I ran for the leadership of the New Democratic Party in 1968, my slogan was one word: NOW. My posters did not even contain my name -- simply the word NOW on a bright green background.

When Lougheed contended for power in 1971, his message to the people of Alberta was one word: NOW. Lougheed was successful and political commentators praised his slogan as a work of genius. I lost my battle by 28 votes and nobody remembers what my slogan was. The measure of genius is success.

An important issue in which Lougheed and I found ourselves at odds was the National Energy Policy. Lougheed defended the right of Alberta to get a world price for oil that was being sold to the eastern provinces. The world price at the time was being inflated by the oil-producing companies in the Middle East. Oil that had been sold for $2.75 a barrel suddenly skyrocketed to over $8 per barrel.

Many people who say the West was against the National Energy Policy forget that Manitoba, normally considered a Western province, was one of the purchasers of oil from Saskatchewan and Alberta. Manitoba did not agree with Saskatchewan and Alberta, and resisted the attempts by these provinces to gouge the rest of Canada. There was considerable acrimony between New Democrats in Saskatchewan and those in Ontario and Manitoba, which only goes to prove that when money is involved ideals suddenly go by the board.

There have been many tributes to Peter Lougheed since his death, and his many accomplishments have been duly and properly recognized. In my opinion, not enough has been said of what I consider to have been his most important and lasting contribution to the Canadian scene.

In the early 1980s the biggest issue in Canadian politics concerned the effort by Pierre Trudeau to patriate the Constitution parcelled with a constitutional Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I was one of the few politicians who spoke against the charter. I argued that a constitutional charter would transfer important decision-making from the elected representatives of the people to unelected and unaccountable judges.

When it became difficult to combat the prevailing conventional wisdom that to oppose the charter was to oppose basic rights, I introduced a resolution in the Manitoba legislature, the effect of which was to give the final say to Parliament and the legislature.

At around this time, the first ministers were meeting with Trudeau and dealing with the constitutional issue. Two premiers, Peter Lougheed and Sterling Lyon, were definitely lukewarm to the charter. After much negotiating, a compromise was finally arrived at. Lyon and Lougheed insisted that if we were to have a charter, it would have to contain a provision saving the right of the legislature to overrule the courts. The result was the approval of the charter with the addition of the famous notwithstanding clause.

The clause permits Parliament or the legislature to overrule the courts, and was and is much criticized by academics and those who do not have faith in the democratic process.

Peter Lougheed, amongst his other contributions, was one of the architects of this democracy-saving provision.

Sid Green is a Winnipeg lawyer and a former NDP cabinet minister.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 18, 2012 A6

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