The start of the Lougheed era

There has been an enormous amount of praise and reflection on the life and political contributions of the late Peter Lougheed.

He is a person who truly transformed our province and gave Alberta a greater national stature than it had generally held before.

This enormous change was symbolized by very simple word – ‘Now’. Peter Lougheed used ‘Now’ as the catchy slogan as he overturned 36 years of Social Credit rule in August 1971.

While the change seemed sudden, it had actually been a number of years in the making. In 1965, Lougheed won the leadership of the nearly moribund provincial Progressive Conservatives.

With enormous energy and clear focus, he systematically built up the party. He recruited new members, mainly in the rapidly growing urban centres of the province. He formulated new policies, more reflective of the changing Albertan urban middle class than the old, largely rural based, Social Credit regime.

The first inkling of an emerging change came in the 1967 general election.

The PC’s won six seats and 26% of the popular vote.

In most provinces, this would have been considered a mediocre result. In Alberta, where it is often said the electorate does not vote as much as it ‘stampedes’, the reduction of support for the Social Credit government was interpreted as a significant setback.

Lougheed pushed ahead with his master game plan.

He continued to recruit new members and bright young candidates. He also was able to woo the very capable Hugh Horner from federal politics to the provincial realm. Horner was the only rural PC candidate elected in 1967, and helped the party make new inroads into rural Alberta.

In Red Deer, in 1967, a 27-year-old lawyer, Jim Foster, ran for the Conservatives, garnering a respectable 34% of the vote, but still losing to the popular local MLA Bill Ure.

Undaunted, Foster continued to work hard towards next time. He continued to build the local PC organization. He went to dozens of meetings across Central Alberta, sounding out local opinions and recruiting new members.

Provincially, the PC party continued to grow and strengthen.

The caucus grew from six to 10, through by-election victories and defections from other parties.

When the next election was called for Aug. 30, 1971, Lougheed and his party were ready. There were a number of new factors that weighed in their favour. The popular Ernest Manning had stepped down as premier and was replaced by the low-key Harry Strom. The electoral boundaries were redistributed, with 10 new seats being created and a much stronger voice being given to urban Alberta.

In Central Alberta, a new provincial riding was created for the City of Red Deer.

The surrounding rural areas became part of the new Innisfail constituency.

Bill Ure decided to contest the Innisfail riding, while Jim Foster ran again in the urban riding of Red Deer.

His opponents were local businessman Fulton Rollings who represented Social Credit, popular local alderman Ethel Taylor who stood for the New Democratic Party and respected local physician Dr. Leonard Patterson who ran for the Liberals.

On election night, even the optimistic PC’s were overwhelmed by the results. They won 49 of the 75 seats, while Social Credit was only able to hang on to 25. In Red Deer, Jim Foster won an impressive victory with 48% of the vote.

The Edmonton Journal ran an editorial cartoon that showed a Progressive Conservative bolt of lightening smashing the very old Social Credit tree.

Ironically, province-wide, the Social Credit Party got 40,000 more votes than in 1967, and yet lost decisively.

The difference was that the usually apathetic voters turned out in much greater numbers. Moreover, the electoral distribution meant that the urban voters were more fairly represented.

In the aftermath of the great victory, Jim Foster quickly took a major role in the new government. He was named Alberta’s first Minister of Advanced Education.

At 31, he was the youngest member of the new cabinet.

A new era for Alberta had commenced and Red Deer had a central place in that new ‘Lougheed’ era.

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