The returns are in from the Policy Options panel of 30 jurors – eminent historians, political scientists, economists, journalists and policy advisers from across Canada — on the best provincial premiers to have held office since the founding of the IRPP 40 years ago. From a list of 18 potential candidates, they were asked to select their choices of the five best and rank them from 1 to 5. The ranking points are calculated as the weighted sum of all top-5 votes received by the premier in question, with a number 1 ranking counting for 5 points, a number 2 ranking counting for 4 points, and so on.

Table 1 shows the “long list” of potential choices and reveals a decisive winner: Peter Lougheed, who served as premier of Alberta from September 1971 to November 1985. With 130 total ranking points, he was far ahead of his nearest contender, William Davis of Ontario, who had 84.

A closer look at the ranking statistics for the Top 5 choices shows just how decisive the jury was. Lougheed was the only premier who was included in the top 5 picks of all 30 jurors, and 21 of those 30 picks were for the number 1 position. It is also interesting that runner-up William Davis did not receive any first-place votes — he was a clear number 2 rather than a competitor with Lougheed for the number 1 spot. In fact, 11 of the 30 jurors chose Lougheed and Davis as winner and runner-up.

There was a close race for third place and fourth place, but Allan Blakeney edged Frank McKenna in both the percentage of jurors including them in the Top 5 and the distribution of those votes. It can be fairly said that Robert Bourassa squeaked into the top 5 by a nose. Nine of the 30 jurors (30 percent) included him in their top 5 choices, one less than for Roy Romanow and the same number as for Danny Williams. But the votes for the latter two were heavily skewed toward the number 4 and number 5 positions, whereas Bourassa received one each of first-, second- and third-place votes, making him the only other premier to receive more than 20 ranking points.

If one used the number of votes of any rank as the bar and ignored the distribution of those votes, then Roy Romanow could legitimately lay claim to fifth place. Behind Bourassa were seven premiers with between 14 and 19 ranking points, which makes calculation of rankings six through 10 much less straightforward and objective than the top 5; hence they are not presented here.

It is also interesting to note that there is geographic and linguistic diversity in the top 5 choices, though this is not primarily due to the jurors “voting for the home team.” The sheer magnitude of support for Lougheed spanned the country, with first-place votes in all regions. Interestingly, 10 of the 13 Ontario-based jurors ranked him first, and 2 of the other 3 also chose non-Ontario premiers. Taking the case of Blakeney as another example, he received a lone fifth-place vote from the Saskatchewan-based jurors; his strongest support was from BC and Ontario.

In addition to choosing and ranking the top 5 provincial premiers, jury members were asked to respond to nine questions pertaining to various aspects of their leadership, such as vision and communications, fiscal and economic management, intergovernmental relations and other important files. For each question, the jurors were asked to rate each of the 18 premiers on the “long list” of candidates on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being poor and 5 being excellent.

The summary results, shown in table 3, show that Lougheed ran the table, with the highest average score on all nine questions. His average rating was significantly higher than all other top 5 contenders, and ranged from 4.23 (interprovincial relations) to 4.77 (winnability).

In order to connect the results of the nine questions on leadership aspects with the top 5 rankings discussed earlier, the top 5 premiers of that exercise are shown in bold in the table. There is clearly not a perfect correlation, but four of the top 5 premiers — Lougheed, Davis, Blakeney and McKenna — figure prominently on all nine questions, and their rankings in table 3 generally track the results of the rankings shown in table 2.

The missing premier in table 3 is Robert Bourassa, who ranked fifth in ranking points but who did not place in the Top 5 in any of the nine other questions (he was, however, a close sixth on the economy, infrastructure and legacy). One potential reason for this is the fact that two of the jurors did not express an opinion about the leadership of Bourassa on any of the nine questions, due to self-reported insufficient knowledge on which to judge. But another more likely one is that the major feat of Bourassa (and unique among the top 5) — reclaiming the leadership of the Quebec Liberal Party and returning to a second term as premier after nine years in the political wilderness — was not directly addressed by any of the nine questions.

A final observation about the results in table 3 is that several names are not among the top 5 overall rankings. Danny Williams is a notable example. He appears in five of the nine leadership questions — including three second-place finishes — despite garnering only 18 total ranking points. One possible reason is that his recent departure from politics (in December 2010) means that his premiership has not had sufficient time to be seen properly in historical perspective to warrant a top 5 ranking overall. But more significantly, Williams scored quite low on intergovernmental relations (2.48 for federal-provincial and 2.07 for interprovincial), suggesting that his combative stance with regard to Ottawa and other provinces proved to be a liability in terms of overall rank.

Gary Doer figures in six of the nine questions, including those pertaining to federal-provincial relations and overall legacy. Given the apparent importance of these factors to overall rankings, one might have expected to see him garner more overall ranking points. But he, like Williams, has exited provincial politics relatively recently (October 2009) and, perhaps more importantly from the perspective of the jurors, has not retired from politics, as he currently serves as Canada’s ambassador to the United States.

Photo: Shutterstock

Jeremy Leonard
Jeremy Leonard has been director of industry services at Oxford Economics, a global economic forecasting consultancy based in the UK, since 2012. He worked for 18 years in a variety of capacities for the IRPP (including director of its Economic Growth and Prosperity research program), and he was a regular contributor to Policy Options.

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