The 40-year dynasty of the Alberta Progressive Conservatives is being remembered by a Red Deer man who was there when the party swept to power.
Jim Foster, 71, remembers the day when then party leader Peter Lougheed, Foster, and the rest of his newly elected members were sworn into office on Aug. 30, 1971. They won 49 of 75 seats.
As a young lawyer in Red Deer, Foster became the Central Alberta organizer for the PC party back in 1965.
He ran in the 1967 election, but was defeated by Red Deer representative, incumbent Social Credit MLA William Ure.
Lougheed and six others were elected that year.
Foster continued to organize and assist. In 1971, an election was called and the Progressive Conservatives intended on beating the Social Credits.
“Certainly in those days, Peter Lougheed was the catalyst for a new Conservative party in Alberta,” said Foster on Tuesday. “We ran under the banner of ‘Now!’ in 1971, which really seemed to capture people’s imagination. And quite frankly, I think we were a bit surprised to win as much as we did. We thought we’d win the election, but not do that well.”
Foster, now a Court of Queen’s Bench Justice, remembers those times as exciting ones.
The Progressive Conservatives had just ousted Harry Strom and his Social Credit party, which had a 36-year hold on power.
“The Socreds had been having trouble renewing themselves and even with new young guns, like Ray Speaker and Doug Clark, that wasn’t enough,” Foster said. “The province was looking for different leadership.”
Foster, at age 31, was elected. He became the youngest cabinet minister at that time. Lougheed appointed him as Advanced Education Minister. Foster would later become Attorney General until he retired from politics in 1979. Foster resumed his law career, becoming a judge in 1991.
The right-of-centre party has won majorities in every election since.
Michael Dawe, curator of history at the Red Deer and District Museum and Art Gallery, said the Progressive Conservatives aren’t the longest-serving dynasty in Canada — yet.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservatives had an uninterrupted 42-year reign from 1943 to 1985. Prior to 1956, the Nova Scotia Liberal Party had ruled the province for 76 of its 89 years.
Albertans have changed their government only two other times — back in 1921 when the United Farmers of Alberta replaced the Liberals, and in 1935 when the Social Credits ousted the UFA party.
Dawe said Red Deer and beyond saw immediate changes when the Progressive Conservatives assumed office in 1971. Human rights legislation was brought in, plus there was widespread government restructuring.
“In Red Deer, you saw a lot of public services and infrastructure projects, which people had been looking for for a long time,” said Dawe.
He remembers when Lougheed toured the Provincial Training School, which was later renamed Alberta School Hospital. Today, it’s called Michener Services. It cares for people with developmental disabilities around the clock.
“He (Lougheed) was quite taken back at how aged a lot of the facilities had become,” Dawe said. “They put a lot of effort into revamping and rebuilding that facility.”
The government also brought in a new policy of moving residents out of institutions and into group homes, which is what has happened with Michener. The institution once had about 2,000 residents and now it has a few hundred, Dawe said.
Lougheed also recognized that the province couldn’t just rely on oil and gas. That affected Red Deer deeply as well, Dawe said.
“He actively worked on diversifying the economy and for Central Alberta, that involved the development of a world-scale petrochemical industry northeast of Red Deer at Joffre and Prentiss,” Dawe said. “That’s totally changed the economy of Red Deer.”