Excerpt from Progressive Conservatism in Alberta: The Rebuilding of a Political Party

The original “Lougheed team” — Don Getty, Dr. Hugh Horner, Lou Hyndman, Dave Russell and Len Werry — was impressive in terms of brain power and achievement in other areas. Each man was assigned as watchdog to at least three government departments. In terms of legislative experience, (except for Hugh Horner) the official Opposition was incredibly green. Frequently, the earnest young MLA’s were not alert enough to exploit Government weaknesses. Wisely they decided that their strategy in the first session should be extensive use of “the Question”. For the first time in decades, the Government, previously accustomed to the uninhibited passage of its bills through the legislative mill, suddenly found its activities and financial statements minutely scrutinized. The taxpayers of Alberta became better informed and the Conservative legislators learned much in the process. The disturbing Socred trend to “government by cabinet” was reversed as the Conservative MLA’s restored the legislative process.

Then Ernest Manning retired as Premier of Alberta. A Socred leadership convention elected Harry Strom to succeed him. When the 1969 legislative session opened, the new Premier found opposite him a row of seasoned, well-informed MLA’s. Repeatedly they attacked the Government for its wastefulness, its mishandling of such issues as construction of the Bighorn Dam, the compulsory medicare program, and the Blair Report on mental health.

By the time Lieutenant-Governor Grant MacEwan read the throne speech at the opening of the 1970 legislative session, the Conservative opposition occupied nine seats. Bill Yurko, an Edmonton engineer, had snatched Premier Manning’s former seat from under the noses of the astounded Social Creditors to become the seventh Conservative MLA. October, 1969, saw the same combination of an outstanding candidate supported by a strong, hard-working organization, win the Edson by-election for the Conservatives. Even the crystal-ball gazers of the media who had confidently billed this as a two-way fight between the Socreds and the NDP, were astounded when Jasper druggist, Bob Dowling, emerged as the victor — and the eighth member of the Opposition. The following month, veteran MLA Bill Dickie gave up his status as lone Liberal in the House to join the PC’s. In June, 1970, rancher Clarence Copithorne, sitting as Independent member for Banff/Cochrane constituency, became the tenth man on the team.

The 1970 session of the Alberta Legislature found the Social Credit representatives somewhat nonplussed by the new tactics of their opponents. While continuing to slam Government inefficiency, the Conservative team balanced its hard-hitting attack with a constructive program of its own. In all, 21 Conservative-sponsored bills were placed before the House. None ever reached the statute books but Albertans were made aware of the positive new direction in which this irrepressible young team was headed. Finally a real alternative had emerged.

Continued in Part IV