Alberta's Camelot: Culture & The Arts in the Lougheed YearsMuch as I admire Graham Hicks, it’s not often our politics align. His article “Wildrose bad for E-Town” in today’s Edmonton Sun, made me stop and think and, dare I say, hope. I agree with his argument that,  “a change of government, any change, after 40 years is attractive. Away with the PC’s arrogance, entitlement and intimidation.”  I couldn’t express my thoughts better. I also agree with him that: “The most practical course for Edmontonians to save our jobs, to prevent corporate pullouts to Calgary, to not be second class citizens in our own province, is to hold our nose and vote Conservative.” Hicks points out that in the past, whenever governing parties had a strong majority, typically Edmonton got the “shaft”. And he offers convincing evidence of this consequence many times in Alberta’s recent past.
Hicks goes on to write that:

The fabled Peter Lougheed – to whom Alison Redford genuflects every day – was no friend of Edmonton. His regime in the 1970s set out to make Calgary the financial centre of Western Canada, damn the consequences to Edmonton. Edmonton’s corporate offices – Imperial Oil, Nova and others – migrated en masse to Calgary, with Lougheed’s blessing. Under Lougheed, Calgary got the gravy, Edmonton got the beans.

What Graham has overlooked, never knew or perhaps has forgotten, is that Edmonton also experienced a spectular flourishing of the arts in the Lougheed years, a flourishing that has left many reminders of the days when it seemed that anything was possible in the arts in Alberta. Joe Shoctor and the The Citadel Theatre, Brian Paisley and the Fringe Festival, the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, the Edmonton Jazz Festival, The Works Festival, the Heritage Festival, the the EPCOR Centre for the Performing Arts, the Calgary Olympics, the Banff Centre, Horst Schmid, Alberta Culture, Mel Hurtig, the Canadian Encyclopedia (still the largest publishing project in Canadian publishing history) and many other famous players, producers and publishing projects graced the stages and the printing presses in Edmonton.  Calgary had a similar explosion of creative energy. This is not just my opinion. Fil Fraser, in his groundbreaking book,  Alberta’s Camelot: Culture & Arts in the Lougheed Years (Lone Pine Press, 2003), documented and captured the spirit of the times in Alberta under the Lougheed years from 1971 to 1985.

Alberta's Camelot

from the left: Peter Lougheed, Joe Shoctor, Horst Schmidt, Brian Paisley

The blurb Lone Pine Publishing used to promote the book says it all:

The Lougheed Conservatives swept into power in Alberta in 1971. For the next decade and a half, the Lougheed government combined a sophisticated and visionary view of the role of culture in society with the affluence of an oil boom to foster a remarkable artistic renaissance in the province. Fil Fraser – nationally recognized filmmaker, broadcaster, journalist and social activist – was at the heart of that cultural revolution. In these memoirs, Fraser recalls the unforgettable personalities and amazing achievements that gave rise to Alberta’s Camelot.

In the foreward to the book David Leighton writes:

The Lougheed years were paralled by growth in the arts in the reste of the country, too but it is not an overstatement to claim, as this book does, that Alberta was “Canada’s Most Extraordinar Explosion in the Arts.” Much of the development in central Canada came following the 1951 Massey Report and the subsequent creation of the Canada Council. For a number of reasons, mostly political priorities, Alberta had been slow to gain from what was happening elsewhere in the country. When the “explosion” did come, it was all the more dramatic, indeed revolutionary. This book makes it clear that the explosion was not because of any one cause, or individual but because of an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime confluence of dynamic individuals and cirumstances, led by Peter Lougheed’s desire to shed the image of “redneck Alberta.”

Each of the 11 Chapters opens with a quote. Here’s my personal favourites:

If the Kennedy years were America’s Camelot, the Lougheed years brought the same magic to Alberta.

Dennis Anderson, Minister of Culture, 1986 – 87.

Pound for pound, when I lived in Edmonton it was the most vibrant, artistic city in Canada, even more than Toronto.

Paul Gross, Canadian actor

The most critical area of human need now lies within man himself; in terms of his[/her] self-respect, his[/her] rights and dignity, his[/her] spiritual malaise, his[/her] search for meaning in the age of increasing automation and anonymity.

Les Usher, Deputy Minister, Alberta Culture, Youth and Recreation, 1971 – 80

A city has to have a soul, a city has to have a heart, and the heart and soul of a city is its culture, and the heart of that culture is theatre.

Joe Shoctor, founder Citadel Theatre

The Fringe is very important to me; it’s definitely part of my growth and development as a playwright, as an artist. You can afford to take chances at the Fringe, you can try things you have never tried before.

David Belkie, Playwright

What is an Alberta filmmaker? Whether a quixotic fool or a hardy survivor, an Alberta filmmaker may simply entertain the notion that a Canadian should be able to ply his or her trade in any part of the country, or may have a burning desire to tell Alberta stories onscreen.

The arts are important because the only things by which we will be known, or will be remembered.

Tommy Banks, Musician, Senator

In the end, things were not all rosy under Lougheed and the cultural renaissance didn’t last.  Inflation ran upwards of 20%. “Lougheed was actually booed at the Edmonton Coliseum on the night of September 18, 1984, when he was introduced at a hockey game between Team Canada and Sweden (page 215).

What began as a clow fade governed by economic realities became an over-the-waterfall drop in support for the arts.  “There was a blunt change in attitude when Ralph Klein became the premier in 1992. The Department of Culture and Multiculturalism disappeared.” Fraser recalls it was replaced by the all encompassing Alberta Community Development, led by Gary Mar. Its portfolio ranged from the arts to human rights, disabilities and drug addiction. Grouped in with social services and a new minister the arts lost prestige, funds, and klout.

In Chapter 10 of Alberta’s Camelot, Fil Fraser sums up the conundrum Edmonton faced then in much the way that Graham Hicks summed it up in his article today.

Alberta is a province full of contradictions. Edmonton is university, intellectuals, civil servants and blue-collar workers. Calgary is financial and decision-making, executive power, white collars and cowboy boots. Business is more important than culture. Edmonton’s river valley has been developed into a series of attractive parks, including large areas left in their natural state. Calgary’s Bow and Elbow rivers are lined with homes and highways. The chinook-challenged city to the north, “Redmonton” to many Calgarians, elect Liberals. The southern financial capital, Joe Clark’s bravado education victory notwithstanding, is solid for the Alliance….in many ways we live in a province divided.

If Graham Hicks is right, we’re likely e to be divided again in half by the results of this election, one way or the other, rural vs urban, Edmonton vs Calgary, unless we vote PC. Like the young people in the YouTube video that was a little over the top, I never thought I would vote PC. But for the one time I purchased a membership only so that I could vote for Nancy Betkowski (now McBeth) over Ralph Klein in 1992 , I have never voted PC before in any election, federal or provincial. But you know what they say about never. The only thing that pulls my political compass in the direction of the PCs is the fact that they do take the arts, youth and recreation seriously, certainly more seriously than the Wildrose or, but for the NDs, any other party asking for my vote.

The Alberta PCs are the only party that seems to clearly presents a cohesive Culture and Community Development vision as their party platform. Here’s  pages 31 & 32 of  it:
PC’s Culture & Community Development Platform 2012 Election

The Wildrose has no reference to arts and culture in their platform or anywhere on their website. To find a reference to anything related to arts, community or culture, in the Wildrose platform you have to look in their Family Pack Plan and you’ll need a magnifying glass. I couldn’t find the word art or culture anywhere in their materials. They left the question of funding for arts and amateur sports blank in their submission to the Edmonton Chamber of Voluntary Organizations of April 17, 2012. (See page 3 in the document below.)

Alberta Election 2012 Arts & Sports Policy Comparisions

Same thing for the Liberals. There’s nothing specific about the arts and culture anywhere on their website. This figures. Their primary occupation is now with health care and I’m glad their fighting on our behalf. They do a good job. The NDs are preoccupied with jobs and the environment and are bringing important issues to light in this area, too. They also seem to share my value of the arts and cultural industries.  At least they place enough importance on it that they posted their arts funding platform on their website:

The Conservatives have gutted arts funding. While big oil and gas get billions from the Conservatives, government assistance to the Alberta Foundation for the Arts has decreased by almost a quarter since 2008. The Conservatives fail to understand that nearly 20,000 people work in Alberta as artists or musicians or actors, or as technicians in television, film or theatre productions. The Conservatives fail to recognize that a knowledge and appreciation of the arts contributes significantly to the quality of life for all Albertans.

The arts provide a substantial economic value to communities, directly and indirectly. Yet many talented Albertans have had to leave the province to find career success elsewhere.

Brian Mason and Alberta’s New Democrats say it’s time to make Alberta’s prosperity work for everyone.

Brian Mason and Alberta’s New Democrats are fighting to

  • Increase funding for the Foundation for the Arts to $90 million in four years
  • Enact Status of the Artist legislation
  • Create an endowment for social sciences, arts, and humanities research
  • Support film and television production
  • Fund public libraries to ensure that they can fill an significant role in community life
  • Make art a requirement from Kindergarten through Grade 12, with the necessary support forteachers, equipment, and supplies
  • Strengthen fine arts training in post-secondary institutions

So, if we vote PC, like it or not, will there be another artistic renaissance in the arts and cultural industries in Alberta fueled by a boom in employment, housing and oil and gas royalties alike there was under Lougheed? It seems  more likely to happen under the PC government than any other at this particular time in Alberta’s history. And, especially since they realized such great success the last time the stars were aligned in Alberta.

Perhaps while Redford’s  on her knees genuflecting to Lougheed, whom I agree was the most successful Premier in my lifetime,  she could learn a thing or two from him about how a thriving arts community in Alberta, rural and urban, is a significant generator of economic, creative and spiritual development.

The arts were good for Albertans under Lougheed, and they are good for Albertans now. Arts are not divisive. They are inclusive. And, they tend to unite communities, not divide. To my mind, they are the fabric with which we collectively share our dreams, fears, hopes, aspirations and humanity no matter where we live in Alberta.

I agree with Hicks. Voting PC seems the rational choice at this time. If you like me, have been put off  by the arrogance, bullying, cronyism, and unearned sense of entitlement of the PCs, it’s a tough pill to swallow. However, I’m mindful of the fact that Alison Redford has only been the leader of the party for a short time and Premier of the province for less than six months. That she won the election despite no endorsement from her leadership rivals, says a lot about her tenacity, chutzpah and determination. She took on a forty year old political dynasty head-on and seems to be doing a pretty good job of cleaning house.

Alison Redford supporters

It seems a two way race between two dynamic, persuasive and politically astute women. But both of them have some housecleaning to do. It’s not like the Wildrose is a new party. It isn’t. It’s the party of Manning, Ezra Levant, Charles Adler and Quebecor. Danielle Smith‘s husband,  a former news producer at Global TV in Calgary is now a news producer at Sun TV, also owned by Quebecor. Not that I have a problem with any of her supporters or with Quebecor. While working at the Edmonton Sun many years ago (which is when I first met Graham Hicks), I enjoyed one of the most interesting, challenging and financially rewarding experiences of my professional career. I do have a problem with politicians, or any one else, judging themselves superior than another based on anything else but for the quality of their character.

Link Byfield

So if it’s to be a two way race between two dynamic, intelligent, charismatic, well-connected, and politically astute women supported by the usual suspects, then it’s a matter of who has the most chutzpah. To me, it’s clearly Redford.

She has taken her party to task on important issues and won. She’s making good decisions and correcting bad ones immediately. Her ego is not front and centre and yet her intelligence and strength of character shows. Her promise to replace $17 in education funding and then deliver on her promise in less a a month was impressive. She’s handling the Gary Mar issue reasonably well considering his entrenchment within the party.  It can’t be easy for her. Smith has never had to face the electorate and her party at the same time. She’s always opted out. Her stance on the two off-the-message candidates who later recanted, was too little too late.  At first, she dismissed these  issues nochalantly. When she read the statement from her notes on Friday after she took some heat for such a tepid response, she seemed to be towing the party line herself. Why else would she have to read such a short statement from her notes?

And, who could forget the admirable way that Redford handled the death of her mother the day before the leadership debate? Her words and deeds demonstrated her values and strength of character more than anything else she did during her leadership bid.

I’m also mindful of the fact that Redford is a bilingual human rights lawyer and former Alberta Justice Minister. Her husband is a senior  lawyer with a speciality in Aboriginal Law for the Department of Justice in Calgary. Unlike any of her counterparts in the other parties, she also has substantial national and international diplomatic experience at a time when this will come in handy.

Excerpt from Wikipedia:

Throughout the 1990s, Redford worked as a technical adviser on constitutional and legal reform issues in various parts of Africa for the European Union, the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Canadian Government and the Government of Australia. Her work in Africa focused on human rights litigation, developing education programs and policy reform with respect to gender issues.

One of Redford’s most notable appointments was by the Secretary-General of the United Nations as one of the four International Election Commissioners to administer Afghanistan’s first parliamentary elections, held in September 2005. Political issues in the elections program within Alberta at that time were under question by the Elections Commissioner. She also served as an adviser to the Privy Council Office on Canada’s future involvement in Afghanistan subsequent to the elections. Her work has included assignments in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Namibia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and the Philippines. Before her most current post, Redford managed a judicial training and legal reform project for the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme People’s Court in Vietnam.

Redford is already a big change for the Progressive Conservative Party which has been in power in Alberta for 4o years. Not only is she the first woman to be Premier in Alberta, she is also a centrist, and a definite switch to the progressive side of “progressive conservative.” Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater and instead give her a fair chance —  at least a full term — to prove her promise to make “the right kind of change.” At this time in Alberta’s history, we need steady, experienced and determined hands on the tiller. Not a whole new boat.

Even if Redford and Smith were equally up to the task, and they could both very well be, what about the rest of the Wildrose party.  How much do we know about them? Who will be her cabinet ministers? What experience do they bring to the table?  Some of them have no business, education or health care experience and most of them no politicial experience. I don’t think this is a good time in Alberta’s history to send in rookies, keen, intelligent and fresh as they might be. But that’s just my opinion. If I have to vote for someone, and I believe I do, I will vote for the candidate of the party that shares my appreciation for the value of arts in community and economic development and hope that they allow the corporate sector to take care of itself. They are better at it.

Who knows? Perhaps Alberta will experience another cultural renaissance under Redford’s watchful eye and the ear of the Honorable Peter Lougheed?  I might even bet my vote on it on Monday.

SOMETIME LATER…I stand corrected by a colleague and someone whose opinion I respect…He pointed out that the Alberta Party does indeed have an election platform that acknowledges the “economic and social value of the creative industries and cultural communities to pur province. We believe that the arts can playa major role in diversifying our economy. Social investments in the arts and culture result in spinoffs in economic activities.”

Here’s what my colleague had to say in an email of Sunday, April 22 in response to this blog post….

If anyone deserves the support of artists and fans of the arts it is Sue Huff.

Sue is the Alberta Party Candidate for Glenora-Edmonton. Sue is very informed, energetic, young (early 40’s) and extremely fair-minded. She has been an active member of the Arts Community for 18 years. And, if you need a political label, slightly left of centre.

Contrary to your email note, another Alberta political party has a cultural policy. The Alberta Party has an enlightened Arts policy. Sue helped to write it. She has made her living as professional actor, writer, researcher and filmmaker here in Edmonton, (ie. Theatre Network, Fringe, NFB, Great North Productions etc. etc).

She is also a former Edmonton Public School Board Trustee, and was instrumental in saving several inner-city schools from closure. And, Sue was the interim leader of the Alberta Party.  Not bad for an artist. Sue and her husband Kevin, a school teacher, have also raised two amazing kids here in Glenora.

She has been door knocking and campaigning, full time, for 10 months. All on her own dime. There is no party funds to help. Zip. None. However, she’s gathered a group of 100 volunteers. They are all tired of wasting their vote on the ND and Liberal candidates. Reality check. These two parties that have zero hope of ever being elected as the government in Alberta. These two national brands will never get a fair hearing here – especially in rural Alberta. The Alberta party will and has. Sue has campaigned in rural Alberta, for other candidates. Residents invite them in for a coffee, as soon as they say they are not with the NDs, Libs or PCs.

Presently, Sue is in a virtual tie with the PC and ND candidates in Glenora-Edmonton.

The truth, other than in the Lougheed years, the PC’s have never embraced the arts. Never! Though, I’ll give Heather full marks for trying.

Laurie Blakeman, Liberal for Edmonton Centre, deserves support too, as she too made her living in the Edmonton Arts community, for many years, before she was elected as an MLA.

I agree that the Wildrose will be an absolute disaster for Alberta, never mind the arts. At a Glenora debate/form yesterday, the Wildrose candidate said “Alberta cannot afford the frivolous expense of funding the arts”.  But your blanket support of the PC’s is not warranted.

So I repeat, if anyone deserves the support of artists and fans of the arts it is Sue Huff.


Norm Fassbender
Alberta Filmmaker
April 22, 2012

Here’s the Alberta Party’s five page brief on Alberta’s Creative Industries I now know about as a result of Norm’s email:

Alberta Party – Creative Industries Policy | Alberta Election 2012

The plot thickens. Now I’ll have to sleep on my decision.

The next morning…

I’ve decided to keep my promise to myself and vote for the party that appreciates that the arts and creative industries is what gives a community heart and soul, no matter their party. I hope you do too.

I cannot help but remind readers who view the arts and creative industries as a luxury item reserved only for those who can afford to waste the time or  spend the money and of  little economic benefit. Steve Jobs was an artist first. After attending Reed College in Portland, Oregon, Steve Jobs “dropped out of college after six months and spent the next 18 months dropping in on creative classes.”  He began his career as a graphic designer with a special  interest in typography.

Steve Jobs is a marvoulous example of a creative mind that figured out a way to combine the best of the arts with the best of the business world. Day to day, Apple is consistently listed amongst the top 3 companies, largest capitalization, in the world. And lest not forget about Pixar. Steve Jobs was the guy that made Pixar such a business and artistic success – not bad for a lazy hippie.

I’ll say no more. Now I’ll go out and vote!


added on September 14, 2012

A beautiful, thoughtful and romantic tribute to Peter and Jeanne Lougheed. Sadly, Peter Lougheed passed away on September 13, 2012 but let’s hope his spirit and his strong commitment to the arts in Alberta  lives on.