Welcome to our special issue marking the 40th anniversary of the IRPP, with our selection by a jury of 30 prominent Canadians of the Best Premier of the Last 40 Years.

We asked our jury to consider nine leadership attributes in a questionnaire we developed, ranking a long list of 18 nominees on a scale of 1 to 10. We then asked them to pick a top 5 list of the best premiers since the IRPP’s founding in 1972.

The answer that came back, both on the nine leadership attributes and the top 5, was resounding: Peter Lougheed, by a landslide.

Our cover shot, taken in southern Alberta as Lougheed was leaving office in 1985, says a lot about him and Alberta — the confident and charismatic leader, the oil industry, with the Rockies in the distance. The picture was taken by Steve Makris of the Edmonton Journal. I came across it in black and white in the Montreal Gazette library, rather like finding the needle in the proverbial haystack. Lucinda Chodan, editor-in-chief of the Journal, asked her intrepid library staff to search for the colour version, which they found within hours.

When we met with Lougheed for our Q&A over lunch at the Ranchmen’s Club in Calgary, he was clearly delighted by the results. As he said: “I’m honoured.”

And we are delighted that he has agreed to be the honouree at our Tribute Dinner in Calgary on June 6, when the keynote speaker will be Premier Alison Redford, fresh from her victory in the Alberta election (for details of the dinner, the net proceeds of which will go to IRPP research, see the full-page ad in this issue, or visit our Web site at irpp.org).

Spending two hours in his company, along with Lee Richardson, who wrote the Lougheed profile for this issue, one had a sense of being a privileged witness to history. At 83, Lougheed may have slowed down, but his mind and memory remain as sharp as ever. Richardson, now the MP for Calgary Centre, was a senior member of Premier Lougheed’s office for most all of his four terms and 14 years in office.

Hugh Segal played a similar role as a close adviser to Bill Davis, the clear runner-up, and of whom Segal writes with obvious affection and respect. It’s a remarkable coincidence that both Lougheed and Davis were in office during the same period, 1971-85, both leaving huge legacies.

Equally, Brian Topp cut his teeth in NDP politics in Saskatchewan, where he worked for Premier Roy Romanow and came to know Romanow’s predecessor, Allan Blakeney, who was in third place, very well. He writes that Blakeney “was an extraordinary leader, public servant, politician and statesman.” From Université de Moncton, Roger Ouellette writes of how Frank McKenna, who came fourth, modernized New Brunswick. Finally, John Parisella, who was fifth-place finisher and was Robert Bourassa’s last chief of staff, writes about his premier, who made Quebec’s economy strong and was a major player over two decades on the Canadian constitutional stage.

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Those, then, were the top 5 premiers. How did they get there? IRPP Research Director Jeremy Leonard, who tabulated the results, breaks down the numbers in significant detail. Then Tom Axworthy writes how each of them made the top 5 list. As for Lougheed, Axworthy concludes: “He was the premier in the last 40 years whose purposes ran most in tandem with the grain of history.”

As a bonus, our pollster Nik Nanos took the leadership questions to the Canadian public, to see how they ranked these attributes in importance.

For the rest of this 40th anniversary package, our writers look at the premiers and issues in federal-provincial relations and the Canadian federation.

Robin Sears writes that today’s premiers stand on the shoulders of giants, giants like our top 5 premiers of the last 40 years, who were in the arena at a time when federal-provincial relations were highlighted by First Ministers’ Conferences on the economy and the Constitution, events that put the provinces in the national spotlight. Not so today.

For his part, Geoff Norquay looks at the federal-provincial scene through the prism of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s announcement of renewing health care funding after the expiration of the Health Accord in 2014. Rather than call a federal-provincial conference or have a long negotiation with the provinces, Ottawa just announced it and said to the provinces, “Over to you.” Norquay writes that Stephen Harper is a classical federalist and close adherent of the constitutional division of powers. Still on this theme, Doug McArthur writes that in the federal-provincial struggles of the last half century, the provinces have clearly held the upper hand. From Memorial University, Chris Dunn looks at the five easternmost provinces — Quebec and the Atlantic provinces — and suggests that Old Canada rebrand itself as the New East. Finally, Velma McColl examines the most challenging federal-provincial issue of them all — energy and the environment.

Elsewhere this month, Brad Lavigne offers another insider’s view, on the legacy of Jack Layton, to whom he was a senior adviser in the last decade of his life. Jean-Pierre Aubry, Pierre Fortin and Luc Godbout propose that the Canada Health Transfer take into account the demographic weight of seniors in each province. And finally, F. Leslie Seidle reviews the 2011 Donner prizewinning book, Democratizing the Constitution.

Photo: Shutterstock

L. Ian MacDonald
L. Ian MacDonald is a former editor-in-chief of Policy Options (2002-12) and is currently an editor and publisher of Policy Magazine.

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