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A Tale of Two Political Leaders

A few weeks ago in a previous blog, I cited the JFK quote, “civility is not a sign of weakness.” Let me tell you a story about two politicians from different ends of the political spectrum who were not in the arena at the same time, but who share one thing in common—civility. They are former Alberta Premier Peter Lougheed, and former Québec Premier Lucien Bouchard.

Last week, Mr. Lougheed passed away at age 84, and tributes to his character have not stopped coming in.

During the same week, Mr. Bouchard launched a book about the importance of young people and their involvement in political life. In so doing, Mr. Bouchard was asked to comment on the new political situation in his home province of Québec. The party he led, the separatist Parti Québécois, has regained power after 9 years in opposition, and the return of the PQ has once again raised concerns about the future of Canadian unity. Bouchard easily dominated the news with some frank talk, and in the process, he actually questioned his former party’s political agenda. It took courage for him to do so.

What is astonishing about these two politicians is how they managed to stay authentic in their demeanor, faithful to their core convictions and respectful of the other side. Mr. Lougheed, the Progressive Conservative leader who governed Alberta for four consecutive terms (1971-85), helped transform Alberta from a “have-not” province into an economic powerhouse. He believed in fiscal responsibility and a balanced, non-ideological approach to governing. Alberta, the home of Canada’s major oil reserves, benefitted from the rise in prices of this vital commodity in the 1970s, but Mr. Lougheed wisely saw the long-term advantages for his province with a balanced management of this important natural resource.

By setting up the Heritage fund, Mr. Lougheed protected Alberta for the days when oil would become scarcer or less in demand. He invested heavily in healthcare and education. When he left office in 1985, Mr. Lougheed was seen a staunch defender of provincial autonomy in the management and the development of natural resources. However, by combining economic prosperity with social progress to create what Harvard’s Michael Porter calls “shared value,” he left Alberta in a better place.

Bouchard was arguably the most natural political talent of his day. Entering politics with Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative government in 1988, he resigned from the government to lead a separatist (or “sovereignist,” in Québec vocabulary) party and pushed for independence in the 1995 Québec referendum—a referendum he nearly won. He later became leader of the PQ, and subsequently Premier from 1996-2000.

Irrespective of where one stands on the question of Québec’s independence or how one regards Alberta’s ferocious defense of its interests, the Canadian political debate was enriched by men of the stature of Mr. Bouchard and Mr. Lougheed.

I have had the good fortune to have known both leaders. One has left us, regrettably, and he leaves an enviable legacy—Peter Lougheed. The other is out of active politics, but continues to have a powerful and influential voice—Lucien Bouchard. Above all, they represent primarily politics done in the promotion of ideas and not the attack on individuals. Granted, they did occasionally engage in hardball politics (they would be the first to admit it), but this was not the norm. Overall, they tried to engage politically in a noble and civil way. Last week, in different circumstances, they reminded us of this, and of the fact that civility is not a sign of weakness.

John Parisella is a contributing blogger to AQ Online. He is the former Québec delegate general in New York and currently an invited professor at University of Montréal’s International Relations Center. His Twitter account is@JohnParisella.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Canada, Lucien Bouchard, Peter Lougheed

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