Ten years after Peter Lougheed retired from elective politics, I asked him what accomplishment he was proudest of.
I expected him to recite his energy policies or provincial-rights victories over the federal government.
However, his immediate, two-word reply surprised me.
“Kananaskis Country,” he said.
The Lougheed government created K Country from a cluster of provincial parks along the Kananaskis River on the eastern slopes of the Rockies.
Kananaskis is rich in history including 11,000 years of Aboriginal occupation, ranching since the 1840s and after 1905 timber cutting, coal mining, hydroelectricity, and oil and gas development.
And where prisoner of war camp inmates built hundreds of miles of modern mountain highways.
Lougheed’s government turned K Country into a multi-recreational paradise.
They commissioned the Nakiska downhill ski venue for the 1988 Winter Olympics.
They maintained the region’s role in economic development and resource harvesting.
Lougheed also led the creation of the Kananaskis outdoor campground haven.
Alberta has a system of provincial parks that could be expanded into a cornerstone of tourism that will be vital to our economy in the post-oil era.
But Premier Jason Kenney is no Peter Lougheed.
Twenty provincial parks will be fully or partially closed in 2020 to save a measly $5 million as part of the Alberta government’s $36-billion spending in the 2020 budget.
By comparison the Kenney government has a $30-million war room, which has accomplished nothing of value during the pipeline and blockade crisis to defend oilsands from negative media coverage and political treatment.
Kenney is penny wise and pound foolish.
The often repeated Alberta 2020 budget theme is that Kenney is undoing foolish NDP spending.
But that certainly doesn’t apply to the provincial campground budgets from Progressive Conservative premiers Lougheed to Prentice that created the modern campgrounds, does it?
The government claims that the province can no longer afford the “retail” side of parks.
Environment Minister Jason Nixon said, “We can’t continue to spend $86 million of Albertans’ tax dollars and only see $36 million come in.”
To which I reply, “Why not?”
Is an operational surplus the only measure of the provincial campgrounds’ success?
And if it is, can’t your much-boasted-about conservative entrepreneurial skills be applied to improve the financial performance of this particular government enterprise?
Or are you only smart enough to shut it down?
A majority of Alberta voters in the last election agreed that the United Conservatives would be more capable financial managers than the New Democrats.
So far we have been deeply disappointed.
Just as they have been disappointed with the New Democrats as the Opposition party.
The NDP are absent without leave.
Without capable economic leadership Alberta is being remade by default.
These are the most momentous years since the discovery of vast fields of conventional oil in the 10 years following 1947.
But Alberta has embarked on a journey into the future without a compass or a guide.
Campgrounds are a tiny part of provincial government responsibility.
But if they can’t be managed, how can Alberta deal with the big issues?
Frank Dabbs is a veteran business and political author and journalist