Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, the Institute for Research on Public Policy was coendowed by Ottawa and the provinces.

In recognition of the vital role of the provinces and their importance in the Canadian federation, Policy Options assembled a jury of 30 prominent Canadians to select the Best Premier of the Last 40 Years.

Working with Tom Axworthy of the Munk School for Global Affairs and Arthur Milnes, 2011 Fellow in Political History at Queen’s University, we designed a questionnaire comprising nine leadership attributes: winnability, communicator, vision, fiscal frameworks, the economy, infrastructure, interprovincial relations, federal-provincial relations and legacy.

We asked the jury to rank each of the nominated former premiers — premiers still in office were excluded from consideration — on each of the nine leadership attributes on a scale of 1 to 10. Finally, we asked them to pick a list of their top 5 premiers from the long list of 18 nominees.

The answer that came back was resounding: Peter Lougheed, by a landslide.

Lougheed was chosen as the Best Premier of the Last 40 Years by 21 out of the 30 members of the jury, and he was picked in the top 5 by all 30 members of the panel. Moreover, he swept the leadership categories, winning all nine attributes.

As Lougheed himself said when he sat for our Q&A in Calgary: “I’m delighted and honoured.”

Lougheed was quite simply the builder of modern Alberta, from better roads to higher education. During the four terms and 14 years of his premiership, Alberta played a leadership role in the Canadian federation as it has at no time since.

Not only did he defend the interests of Alberta on the ownership of its resources, he created the Heritage Savings Trust Fund to save for a rainy day. And there would have been no agreement on patriating the Constitution with an entrenched Charter of Rights in 1981 had Ottawa not accepted Lougheed’s general “7/50” amending formula requiring the consent of Ottawa and seven provinces representing 50 percent of the population, as well as the notwithstanding clause providing a legislative override clause to Parliament and the legislatures. Though never invoked by Ottawa, it was a deal maker at the federal-provincial constitutional table in November 1981.

Finally, he founded a Progressive Conservative political dynasty that remains in office to this day. Forty-one years and counting. The Alberta PCs, under their new leader Alison Redford, have just won their 12th consecutive election. Lougheed’s emphatic endorsement of Redford, with only 10 days to go in an election in which her campaign had been struggling against the surging Wildrose Party and its leader, Danielle Smith, may well have been a game-changer.

With 100 percent coverage in the top 5, and his sweep of the nine leadership questions, Lougheed finished way out in front in the scoring, which was tabulated by IRPP Research Director Jeremy Leonard.

As the results came in, his lead only lengthened, and there was never any doubt that he was going to win.

But the Man from Brampton, William G. Davis, was a very respectable second, with 86.7 percent of the jurors voting for him and 84 points overall. Though he received no votes as Best Premier, Davis was the consensus choice for second place. Coincidentally, he was in office during the same period as Lougheed, from 1971 to 1985.

Allan Blakeney, the prairie socialist who never ran a deficit as Saskatchewan premier from 1971 to 1982, was a strong third, with coverage in the top 5 from 50 percent of the jurors and 44 points overall.

Frank McKenna, who modernized the economy and infrastructure of New Brunswick, was in fourth place with top 5 coverage by 46.7 percent of the jury and 37 points.

Finally, Robert Bourassa edged out René Lévesque for fifth place, based partly on his remarkable return from the political wilderness, reclaiming the Quebec Liberal leadership in 1983, and the premiership itself in 1985. He was also the father of the James Bay hydroelectric projects and played a prominent role in support of the Free Trade Agreement in 1987 and the Meech Lake Accord from 1987 to 1990.

In selecting the jury, we were very conscious of the need for balance on two “Gs” — geography and generations. We also wanted both official language communities, as well as minority language communities, represented. We believe the jury list reflects that. Every province was represented according to its weight in the federation. Official language and minority language communities were well represented.

The full list of the jury members can be seen at the end of this article. It’s a remarkable and very diverse group — including three former clerks of the Privy Council and two former senior federal cabinet ministers from the West — and we thank them all for taking the time to participate by responding to our questionnaire on the Best Premier of the Last 40 Years. It is also worth noting that the jurors worked independently and weren’t informed who their colleagues on the panel were until the results were fully tabulated.

In sending us their short bios, each jury member was asked to tell us where he or she was born or grew up. What was quite striking about what came back was that only 7 of the 30 members still lived in the city of their birth. The rest have all moved from one part of Canada to another.

When we started out to do the Best Premier of the Last 40 Years, we thought it would be a lot of fun. And it was.

We weren’t sure what the results would be, and whether the answers to our questionnaire would be illuminating.

The results speak for themselves.

And the answer is Peter Lougheed.

Our Jury

Thomas S. Axworthy: Tom is a native of Winnipeg. Early in his career, he served as senior policy adviser and principal Secretary to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. He left politics to teach, and in 1984 he went to Harvard University as a fellow of the Institute of Politics at the Kennedy School of Government. He was subsequently appointed Visiting Mackenzie King Chair of Canadian Studies. He helped to create the Historica Foundation in 1999 to improve the teaching and learning of Canadian history, and he became Historica’s executive director, a position he held until 2005. In 2009, he became president and CEO of the Walter & Duncan Gordon Foundation. He is a distinguished senior fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and a senior fellow at Massey College.

Daniel Béland: A native of Montreal who spent the last decade on the Prairies, Daniel holds the Canada Research Chair in Public Policy at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (University of Saskatchewan campus). He was a visiting scholar at the Kennedy School of Government (Harvard University) and a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center (Washington, DC). An expert in comparative public policy, he has published eight books and more than 60 articles in peer-reviewed journals. He regularly engages with elected officials, civil servants, and the media on a host of policy issues.

Raymond B.Blake: A native of Pushthrough, Newfoundland, Raymond is professor of history at the University of Regina and a former director of the Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy. He is the author and editor of a dozen books, including Narrating a Nation: Canadian History Post-Confederation and Narrating a Nation: Canadian History Pre-Confederation (both co-authored), From Rights to Needs: A History of Family Allowances in Canada, 1929-1992, and Transforming the Nation: Canada and Brian Mulroney. He has taught Canadian studies in Canada and abroad, and recently was Craig Dobbin Chair in Canadian Studies at University College Dublin, Ireland.

Derek H. Burney: Originally from Fort William, now Thunder Bay, Derek is senior strategic adviser for Norton Rose Canada LLP. A graduate of Queen’s University, he was Canadian ambassador to the United States from 1989 to 1993, after a 30-year career in the Canadian Foreign Service. He served as chief of staff to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and was directly involved in the negotiation of the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement. He was president and chief executive officer of CAE Inc. (1999-2004) and chairman and chief executive officer of Bell Canada International Inc. (1993-99).

Catherine Cano: A native of Chicoutimi, Quebec, Catherine spent 30 years in communications, first as a press secretary to the Right Honourable John Turner. She was a producer and journalist for the Societé Radio-Canada (SRC) and the CBC, in which capacity she covered numerous provincial and federal elections. She later became news director of SRC and director of RDI (Réseau de l’information). She is now managing partner of the Toronto office for National Public Relations.

Mel Cappe: A native of Toronto, Mel is a professor in the School of Public Policy and Governance, University of Toronto. He was president of the Institute for Research on Public Policy from 2006 to 2011. He served in the Public Service of Canada as high commissioner for Canada to the United Kingdom from 2002 to 2006. Before that he was Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Thomas J. Courchene: Tom was born in Wakaw, Saskatchewan, and was educated at the universities of Saskatchewan (honours BA), Princeton (PhD economics) and Chicago (post-doctoral). He is currently the Jarislowsky-Deutsch Professor at Queen’s University (economics and policy studies) and is senior scholar at the Institute for Research on Public Policy. He is the editor or author of some 60 books and has written widely on broad range of Canadian public policy issues. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Christopher Dunn: Born and raised in Winnipeg, Christopher is a professor of political science at Memorial University. He has written and edited books and has published several articles on Canadian politics, federalism, public policy, public administration and constitutional issues. He has been involved with three Royal commissions and is a regular contributor to Policy Options.

David Emerson: Born in Montreal, David pursued a public service and business career in British Columbia before serving as Canada’s minister of industry, of international trade and of foreign affairs. He recently was chair of the Energy Policy Institute of Canada and of the Alberta Premier’s Council for Economic Strategy. He is currently co-chair of the Prime Minister’s Advisory Committee on the Public Service and is leading a federal review of Canada’s aerospace and space industries.

Daniel J. Gagnier: A native of Quebec, Dan serves on a number of volunteer boards and is chair of the International Institute for Sustainable Development. A graduate of Loyola College and McGill University, he was a diplomat, a deputy minister in a number of Canadian governments, principal secretary to the premier of Ontario and chief of staff to the premier of Quebec. He was senior vice-president of Alcan Inc. responsible for corporate affairs, environment, and health and safety.

Roger Gibbins: Roger was born in Prince George, British Columbia, and has an undergraduate degree from the University of British Columbia and a PhD in political science from Stanford University, California. He is president and chief executive officer of the Canada West Foundation. Prior to assuming the leadership of the foundation in 1998, he was a professor of political science at the University of Calgary, where he started his academic career in 1973. He served as department head from 1987 to 1996. He is the author, co-author or editor of 22 books and more than 140 articles and book chapters, most dealing with western Canadian themes.

Gordon Gibson: Born in Vancouver, Gordon is a former executive assistant to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, member of the Legislative Assembly, and Leader of the Liberal Party of British Columbia from 1974 to 1979. His public policy areas include federalism, democratic reform and Aboriginal affairs, and he is the author of numerous monographs and essays. He is a member of the Order of British Columbia and a freelance columnist with the Globe and Mail and the Vancouver Sun. He is senior external treaty negotiator for the Gitxsan Nation, and he serves on the board of Westshore Terminals and the advisory boards of the University of British Columbia Centre for the Study of Democratic Institutions and the Graduate School of Journalism.

Jean-Herman Guay: Jean-Herman was born in Montreal. He received a master’s degree from the University of Ottawa and a PhD from the Université de Montréal at the end of the 1980s in political science. He has conducted many studies based on surveys and other empirical methods, aimed at gauging significant trends in public opinion. He is a professor at the University of Sherbrooke, with which he has been associated since 1990, and where he was the first director of the École de politique appliqué. He is the author of seven books and many academic articles.

Tasha Kheiriddin: A native Montrealer, Tasha is a graduate of Collège Jean de Brébeuf and the McGill Law School. She is co-author of the best-selling Rescuing Canada’s Right and former director for Quebec of the Fraser Institute. She is currently the co-host of the daily current affairs program “National Affairs” on CTV Newschannel, as well as a weekly commentator on Radio-Canada’s “Le Téléjournal,” and she is a columnist with The National Post. She lives in Whitby, Ontario, with her daughter, Zara MacDonald.

Ron Kneebone: A native of Hamilton, Ontario, Ron is a professor of economics and director of economic and social policy in the School of Public Policy at the University of Calgary. He is co-author of two undergraduate textbooks: Economics (with N.G. Mankiw and K. McKenzie) and Macroeconomics (with A. Abel, B. Bernanke and D. Croushore). He is a former associate editor of Canadian Public Policy, and in 2000 he shared with K. McKenzie the Purvis Prize for the best published work in public policy.

Kevin Lynch: A native Cape Bretoner, Kevin is the vice-chair of BMO Financial Group. He is a graduate of Mount Allison University in economics, Manchester University with a master’s in economics, and McMaster University with a PhD in economics. He is the incoming chair of the board of governors of the University of Waterloo. Before he retired from the Public Service of Canada, he had been the Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the cabinet. Made a privy councillor in 2009, he is an Officer of the Order of Canada.

Antonia Maioni: A native Montrealer, Antonia is associate professor at McGill University in the Department of Political Science and the Institute for Health and Social Policy. From 2001 to 2011, she served as director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, while also holding the position of William Dawson Scholar. She holds a PhD from Northwestern University in Illinois, and she has published widely in the fields of comparative politics, public policy and health care reform. She is an analyst on Quebec and Canadian politics for CTV News and a regular contributor to the Globe and Mail.

Christopher Manfredi: Born in Toronto and raised in Saskatchewan and Alberta, Christopher is dean of the Faculty of Arts at McGill University. He received a BA and an MA from the University of Calgary, and a master’s degree and a PhD from Claremont Graduate University in California. He is an author and scholar on the role of the judiciary, especially the Supreme Court, in democratic societies, principally Canada and the United States.

Doug McArthur: Born and raised on a farm in Watrous, Saskatchewan, Doug is professor in the School of Pubic Policy at Simon Fraser University. He teaches government and politics, public policy theory and process, and Aboriginal policy and negotiations. At various times he was deputy minister to the premier and cabinet Secretary in British Columbia, deputy minister of Aboriginal affairs in British Columbia, chief land claims negotiator in the Yukon, and deputy minister of agriculture and deputy minister of Northern Saskatchewan in Saskatchewan. He was minister of education in Saskatchewan from 1978 to 1982 and chair of the Canadian Council of Ministers of Education. He is a graduate of the University of Saskatchewan, University of Toronto, and Oxford University, where he was a Rhodes Scholar.

Velma McColl: A westerner who has lived for more than a dozen years in Ottawa, Velma studied at the University of British Columbia and the Banff School of Management. A former adviser to several federal cabinet ministers, she has also worked in politics at the provincial level in Alberta and British Columbia. She has been an entrepreneur and is now a principal of the Earnscliffe Strategy Group in Ottawa, where her practice focuses on clean technology, energy and the environment.

Charles J. McMillan: Born in Charlottetown, Charles is a professor of international business and public policy at York University. Active in public affairs in Canada and several countries, he has worked on provincial campaigns in four provinces and has served as an adviser to several premiers, including the premiers of four Atlantic provinces. His report, Focusing on the Future: The New Atlantic Revolution is available from the Council of Atlantic Premiers. He serves as chairman of Canada World Youth.

David J. Mitchell: A native of Montreal, David is the president and chief executive officer of Canada’s Public Policy Forum. A former British Columbia member of the Legislative Assembly, he was also deputy Clerk of the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly. He has worked as an executive in western Canadian resource industries and as a newspaper columnist and public affairs commentator, and he has served as a vice-president of three Canadian universities: Simon Fraser University, University of Ottawa and Queen’s University. He is the author of a number of books, including a biography of W.A.C. Bennett.

Geoff Norquay: Born and raised in rural Manitoba, Geoff has degrees in political science from the University of Manitoba and York University. Initially he pursued a career in social policy with the Ontario and Alberta governments. He has been involved in Conservative politics all his life, serving in various capacities in the office of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney between 1984 and 1988. In 2004-05, he was director of communications for Stephen Harper when he was Leader of the opposition. He is a principal with the Earnscliffe Strategy Group in Ottawa.

Roger Ouellette: A native of New Brunswick, Roger is a professor of political science at the University of Moncton. He has degrees from the universities of Moncton, Ottawa, and the Sorbonne. A former student of the École nationale d’administration, he served in the government of New Brunswick before embarking on an academic career. His teaching, research and publications deal mostly with Canadian and Acadian policy.

John Parisella: A native Montrealer, John is executive director of the major fundraising campaign for the Université de Montreal, HEC and Polytechnic Montréal. A graduate of Concordia and McGill universities, he served as Quebec’s delegate general in New York. He was chief of staff to Premiers Robert Bourassa and Daniel Johnson, as well as special adviser to Premier Jean Charest. The co-author of a book series entitled Élections Made in USA (2004, 2008), he taught at Concordia University. He is now teaching at the Université de Montréal.

Jim Prentice: A native of Timmins, Ontario, Jim is the senior executive vice-president and vice-chair of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. He was elected to the Parliament of Canada in 2004, 2006 and 2008, and served variously as Canada’s minister of industry, of environment and of Indian affairs and northern development. He also chaired the Operations Committee of cabinet from the time the Stephen Harper government was elected in 2006 until in late 2010, when he retired from elected office. Jim Prentice is a graduate of the University of Alberta (commerce) and Dalhousie University (law). He is currently a director of BCE Canada and Bell Canada.

Robin Sears: Born and raised in Toronto, Robin is a senior communications and public affairs adviser with experience on three continents. He has led client teams in health care, financial services, media and international democratic development. As national director of the New Democratic Party, he built its policy-making infrastructure, its first “issues” publication, and its first national direct-mail fundraising. As the NDP’s national campaign director, he managed three national elections.

Jennifer Smith: Born in Ontario, Jennifer has been a resident of Nova Scotia since 1973. She is professor emeritus at Dalhousie University. She wrote the volume Federalism (2004), which was published as part of the Canadian Democratic Audit series. She co-edited The Democratic Dilemma: Reforming the Canadian Senate (2009), and The Evolving Canadian Crown (with D. Michael Jackson, 2012).

Paul M. Tellier: A native of Joliette, Quebec, Paul is a former Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the cabinet. He is a former chief executive officer of CN and Bombardier. He is now a corporate director.

Ronald L. Watts: Born in Japan and a long-time resident of Kingston, Ontario, Ron is professor emeritus of political studies and principal and vice-chancellor emeritus at Queen’s University. He is a former director and currently a fellow of the Institute of Intergovernmental Relations at Queen’s University. He was a founding board member of the Forum of Federations and is a former board member and chairman of the Research Committee of the IRPP. On several occasions, notably in 1980-82 and 1991-92, he was a consultant to the Government of Canada during constitutional negotiations. His most recent book is Comparing Federal Systems (3rd ed., 2008).

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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