Money still can’t buy happiness-and if you don’t believe that, check out Alberta

Allan Fotheringham March 21 1977

Money still can’t buy happiness-and if you don’t believe that, check out Alberta

Allan Fotheringham March 21 1977

Money still can’t buy happiness-and if you don’t believe that, check out Alberta

Allan Fotheringham

Architecture has a way of revealing the personality of the inmates. If the structure is such an icon as a legislative building, an entire province is unfrocked. Could anything be more illustrative of Ontario than that squat, bulbous remnant of some pharaoh’s palace, done in railroad red, that sits on University Avenue and is known as Queen’s Park? The screwball Disneyland lighting that makes the British Columbia legislature resemble a stone birthday cake at night typifies the kookiness of BC.

The underrated beauty of Saskatchewan can be judged by the surprising serenity of the legislature’s setting on man-made Wascana Lake. The essential solidity and quietude of Manitoba can be seen by the spacious, treed setting of the dome topped by the Golden Boy. Newfoundland’s bleakly modern house of assembly, resembling either a hospital or something out of Moscow’s school of New Brutalism, sits uneasily on a windy hill and demonstrates that rocky isle’s struggle against the elements. And Ottawa’s collection of Presbyterian Gothic naturally unveils the type of pinched minds that for too long were allowed to shape the psyche of this land.

Most revealing of all, perhaps, is the fin de siècle pile of stone that is the Alberta parliament in Edmonton. Seen from the opposite bank of the North Saskatchewan River, it is bathed in a soft roseate glow and there is almost a Roman look to it. Snatched from its depressing surroundings, it could fit into a minor European capital. It has imperial pretensions. The building on the bank of the Saskatchewan wants to be more important than it is.

As such, it serves as a frozen frame of Alberta, circa 1977. There are misapprehensions abroad (meaning east of Kenora and west of Banff) that Fort Knox is to be dismantled and moved to somewhere between Pincher Creek and High River. There has been the impression given that the total blue-eyed Arab population of this province, like some test-tube generation raised in a hermetically sealed hothouse, is to vault into hitherto undreamed-of affluence that will place them—somewhat like a German shepherd’s whistle—somewhere beyond the rest of us and out of reach.

The reality is more sobering. There will be indeed, as of March 31, a total of $2.2 billion in the Heritage Fund—a rainy-day piggybank for the future garnered from oil and gas royalties. But Alberta is still, to an outsider, a surprisingly primitive place. In booming Edmonton, so many faces*on the street are square and rough, so many parkas and tough boots remind the visitor that frontier and bush and farm are still close. In Calgary, Mayor Rod Sykes seemed determined to elevate himself to the level of genuine nut. claiming the Parti Québécois government includes “thieves and murderers.” The Toronto Star's Ottawa columnist, Richard Gwyn, viewed Alberta in a western swing and the entire province’s squeals of pricked pride some weeks later are reminiscent of a highschool orchestra reacting to criticism. The chauvinism of the place reeks, wafts upward from the rough sidewalks and emanates like perfume from the conversations.

Premier Peter Lougheed sits on a flowered couch in his huge office, a polite, pleasant man shaped by his super-competitive boyhood and a lifelong resentment at how the West has been diddled by the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal Golden Triangle. He is free to admit that the reason he shocked his free enterprise friends by buying Pacific Western Airlines is that Alberta will no longer abide being a prisoner of transportation systems controlled from afar. (Calgary is the only major city in Canada where the CPR lines still carve the downtown core like a Berlin wall, forcing streets to duck under or rise over.) As soon

point the panjandrums of central Canada most dangerously ignore), is that Alberta feels frustrated, trapped, the only province besides contented, serene Saskatchewan without access to the sea. Alberta is a musclebound Switzerland. She aims to do something about it. as the Supreme Court disagreed with Ottawa and approved Alberta’s PWA purchase, it was discovered the airline was talking merger with Transair, another line that sweeps across the northern prairies and into Toronto. Now that he has his own airline, does Lougheed want a route to the sea? He acknowledges the opening of the Mackenzie Valley corridor to the Arctic has been an Alberta (and family) dream since grandfather Sir James Lougheed advocated the project in the Senate. Some Albertans refer to Inuvik, in the Mackenzie Delta, as “Alberta’s port ”

Most of all, in Lougheed, there seems the disappointment that the phenomenon of René Lévesque has snatched Ottawa’s attention away when Alberta had finally caught the ear of the feds. He seems resigned to the fact it will be some time before that attention can be recaptured. He comes across as pensive on Joe Clark—who was once almost an office boy for him— saving the correct, necessary things as an executive would about a onetime junior.

Lougheed, no intellectual himself but a fiercely determined worker, declined the opportunity of sitting across the floor from Pierre Trudeau as Leader of the Opposition and did not even stay in the Ottawa civic arena for the final ballots in the Tory leadership contest. He has gone down in prestige since that date within the party and the country as a whole, declining to say much on the Quebec issue. His throne speech this month contained just one paragraph on unity.

There is one link with Quebec: the populations of these two precincts tend to veer toward uniformity of thought. They love landslides. If democracy is not entirely a frail flower in Alberta, it does make for quite the dullest legislature in the country. Lougheed owns 69 of the 75 seats and it is an unusual week when he’s asked an interesting question. To add to the ennui, Edmonton is a one-newspaper town. It is not an excess pool of dissent.

The mistake is to misjudge the province of rough faces and new wallets. Bruised pride is everything. When the Premier toured Europe in 1975, his entourage—including wives and press—totaled 110. Next? Moscow, the Shah of Iran and Geneva—where Alberta wants to talk about the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. To the press, it is now “Peter Potentate.” He has the money, but not the attention.

Alberta claims to be misunderstood and it is. Despite all the muscle, it is a strangely insecure province.