09/17/2012 12:07 EDT | Updated 11/16/2012 05:12 EST

Media Bites: The Lougheed Legacy's Light on History


I should start by admitting I was only 15 months old when Peter Lougheed concluded his highly transformative tenure as ruler of Alberta, so my memories are a little hazy. But I seem to recall there was a time when this nation's editorial pages weren't quite as overflowing with praise of the late Conservative premier as they are today.

If anything, during the pre-Harper, pre-Reform era in which he governed, ol' Pete was basically the central establishment's favoured bogeyman of right-wing western intransigence, the exalted emir of those blue-eyed-sheiks happier to let the eastern bastards freeze in the dark than consent to Pierre Trudeau's command-and-control energy schemes.

(In a particular bit of grim fortuitousness, Lougheed's stranglehold on Canada's burgeoning oil fiefdom overlapped with one of the worst periods of OPEC tyranny. The pundits drew predictable analogies, and the Toronto cartoonists drew caricatures -- usually featuring a Keffiyeh-clad premier waving a scimitar.)

Now, of course, enough time has passed that Alberta's oil wealth can be appreciated as a high tide lifting all ships, and the evolution of the province from sleepy agrarian Podunk to economic lynch-pin of confederation a undeniable national good -- particularly as the east drifts further into perpetual have-not-ery.

And herein lies the central irony of Lougheed's passing and the great wave of eulogies that've accompanied it: a man whose loyalty to the national interest was once so contested is now enjoying veneration as a sort of latter-day founding father.

In any case, with Alberta's national leadership no longer a subject of much contention, most papers' memorials have simply passive-aggressively emphasized how much more they like the late premier than certain other Albertan politicians we could name.

I mean, no one ever doubted Premier Lougheed's patriotism. He was an "Albertan in breeding" but a "Canadian at heart" says Jeffrey Simpson. A "passionate Canadian" and "proud Albertan," agrees the Toronto Star, ranking his loves in the correct order. "Despite his battles with the federal government, he called himself a Canadian first and an Albertan second," concurs the Ottawa Citizen. That inspiring self-description was "the most memorable line" he ever delivered, swoons Licia Corbella at the Calgary Herald.

And unlike some Conservatives he totally wasn't a right-wing nut, either!

"To label him merely a conservative is not just a misnomer, but an injustice" says Graham Thomson at the Calgary Herald. In fact, compared to today's right-wing loony tunes, dude "was a virtual socialist." I mean, just look how Pete handled oil development during his reign, notes the Globe and Mail board: he was always "equally interested in environmental legislation"and "the potential of the oil sands," which by today's standards probably sounds as unconservative as a premier willing to nationalize a commercial airline. And guess what!

Fact is, this was a guy who really understood that big government "was the people's friend," mourns Simpson. Such a pity that good, red, Lougheedian Tories are such an "increasingly endangered political species" these days.

Now, Lougheed was undeniably a "political titan" of 20th Century Canadiana, in the words of the Edmonton Journal, and his legacy, as Mayor Nenshi quotably quipped, is truly "all around you." But the fact that he died enjoying such uncomplicated love from the press does reveal something not entirely attractive about the nature of this country, and the degree to which we're quickest to celebrate those who seem most compatible with the received wisdom of the present, even if that requires a selective survey of their past.

It "would be crass to politicize his death," write the Maclean's folks, and indeed it would. Pity, then, that the politics of Peter's passing have been as overtly ideological as anything he witnessed in life.


Another day, another epic murderous clash of civilizations over some dopey anti-Muslim thing. Guy makes offensive video, the streets run scarlet with the blood of innocents. Yawn-city, am I right?

But you can always count on a "wither-free-speech" story to boil the collective potato of the Canadian punditocracy, and this latest controversy over that idiot Innocence of Muslims video has fired up the ire of two of our media's hottest hotheads in particular. On the one side we've got Haroon Siddiqui, Toronto Star king of lefty political correctness, on the other, Lorne Gunter, beloved conservative crab-apple of Sun News fame.

When it comes to spreading offensive speech and killing because you're offended by that speech, there's really "no equivalency between the two" says HaroonBUT free speech is "not a license to trigger a clash of civilizations," either, though that's what all these "anti-Islamic hate-mongers in the West" seem to be into. And let's not forget that "Muslims have reasons to be angry at America" because of all the bombings and stuff. So let's not get too preachy about the deaths of a couple Yankees in Libya.

Oh please, says Lorne. Muslims need to learn to "separate mosque and state and get over their Medieval reaction to every perceived slight to their god and his prophet." If we in the west have to ANYTHING to apologize for, it's that we keep "acquiescing to the extremists' demands that our concept of free speech be subordinated to the feelings of religious zealots."

Talk about heated! But don't worry folks, even though Canada is home to viciously polarized mobs of free speech fundamentalists and hurt-feeling supremacists I'm sure the two'll never come to blows.

Our people are funny that way.