The political ties that bind: Lougheed and Blakeney

How a deep trust and enduring friendship helped craft Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and ensure lasting provincial autonomy

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Political friendships

By John von Heyking
and
Thomas Kazakoff
University of Lethbridge

The relationship between Peter Lougheed and Allen Blakeney demonstrated how consistent trust for one another over a decade’s political enterprise became the foundation for a political friendship, and helped forge Canada as we know it.

In his essay Reflections on the Kitchen Accord (2012), former Saskatchewan premier Roy Romanow illuminates the central role trust played in producing agreement during the negotiations leading up to the 1982 adoption of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms: “the quality in all this that most stands out is trust. … Who knows what comes first – friendship or trust – but both developed.”

John von Heyking

Romanow shows how trust and even friendship undergird Canada’s constitutional order. His observation agrees with the philosophical insights of ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, who wrote of the importance to politics of friendships among people of good moral character: “such friendships are likely to be rare, because such people are few … it is not possible for them to accept one another before that, or to be friends until each shows himself to each as lovable and is trusted.”

Romanow refers specifically to the trust and friendship between Blakeney and Lougheed, who met this requirement of trust throughout their political careers.

Lougheed was the 10th premier of Alberta and leader of the Progressive Conservatives for 14 years (1971 to 1985). One of his most significant achievements was his steadfast commitment to provincial autonomy during the charter negotiations. He was adamant that all 10 provinces must consent and be formally acknowledged in the Constitution, establishing a lateral relationship between provincial and federal governments.

Lougheed had a keen eye for integrity and a similar passion in others, including, most notably, Blakeney.

Blakeney was the 10th premier of Saskatchewan and leader of that province’s NDP for 11 years (1971 to 1982). He was instrumental in the creation of a Crown corporation for the potash industry, as well as SaskOil.

Thomas Kazakoff

In Political Management in Canada and Promises to Keep (written with Sandford Borins and Dennis Gruending), Blakeney provides an anecdote showing his high regard for Lougheed. In 1975, Blakeney referred to then-Alberta NDP leader Grant Notley in a speech in Northern Alberta. One of Lougheed’s aides in attendance misinterpreted Blakeney’s comment as reflecting negatively on Notley. Lougheed voiced his disapproval upon hearing of this misinterpretation. Word made its way back to Blakeney, who quickly made a call to Lougheed to clear the matter up. Blakeney concludes the story by stating that their “good relationship” continued unhindered from that point. Blakeney’s decision to include this personal anecdote, rather than examples of more formal policy experiences conducted with Lougheed, reflects the importance of his trust in Lougheed.

Blakeney and Lougheed’s mutual trust was more impressive given their contrary political associations. For many Albertans, Lougheed represented the pinnacle of Progressive Conservative leadership. Blakeney was similarly well respected, but as an exemplar of left-wing ideals. Even so, the premiers’ shared goal of achieving provincial authority over natural resources provided opportunity for them to develop trust for each other. That would prove to be invaluable during the charter negotiations, especially concerning the powers of the provincial governments and the notwithstanding clause.

During the 1980 first minister’s conference, Lougheed and Blakeney argued that the lack of provincial authority over natural resources reflected the federal government’s distrust of the provinces. Advocating greater provincial authority over natural resources together served as an example of trust between Lougheed and Blakeney. And it paved the way for future unified efforts to resist federal encroachments, especially during charter negotiations.

The most important example of the trust between the provincial leaders occurred during the final nights of the charter negotiations. Romanow discusses the discussions concerning the contents of the Constitution in the kitchen of the Government Conference Centre in Ottawa. He identifies Blakeney and his team as the epitome of trustworthiness.

The mutual trust practised by the premiers and their teams allowed the men to overcome obstacles such as philosophical differences, constitutional perspectives and provincial loyalty to craft a Constitution that accurately encompassed the whole of the Canadian identity: “a moment when the cooler heads of Peter Lougheed, Allan Blakeney and Bill Davis recognized that there was still a possibility for compromise – the project was saved not by the substantive brilliance of anyone … but by relationships – relationships that were built on friendship and, more importantly, trust.”

Lougheed reflected on his career in an interview with Policy Opinions in June 2012, where he was asked about his relationships with his fellow premiers. He was quick to identify Blakeney as a “great friend” and fellow statesman. Blakeney was the only person Lougheed referred to as a “friend” on the interview. Lougheed’s use of the term “friend” emphasizes his admiration for Blakeney’s moral character, and the trust they shared and depended upon during tumultuous times.

The premiers demonstrated that a friendship that spans trust, goodwill and virtue is worthy of study and reflection.

John von Heyking is professor of political science at the University of Lethbridge. He is the author of The Form of Politics: Aristotle and Plato on Friendship. Thomas Kazakoff is a researcher at the University of Lethbridge.


Peter Lougheed, Allen Blakeney

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