By Trevor Busch
Often viewed as a leader with a complicated legacy, Alberta’s 11th premier Don Getty, who steered the province during another time of economic difficulty, passed away last week in Edmonton.
Getty, who died on Feb. 26, served as premier from 1985 to 1992. A Progressive Conservative, he filled various cabinet roles prior to taking over as premier from Peter Lougheed, including Energy and Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs.
“A good man. He had a long and distinguished career in serving Albertans, and we’re saddened to hear of his passing,” said Cardston-Taber-Warner MLA Grant Hunter. “There were certain things that I didn’t agree with. Looking back historically, he deficit spent the $24 billion debt that we had to pay off, which was paid in full. I didn’t like that, but I guess I would really need to understand how bad the oil situation was back then — because it was bad, I know that. It was before my time, (but) he served Albertans, and I appreciate the service that he gave.”
Before entering politics in the province, Getty had been a star quarterback for the Edmonton Eskimos football club as part of the Canadian Football League, passing for more than 8,000 yards, over a career that spanned a decade. First entering politics in 1967 as a PC MLA, Getty would serve in this role until 1979 before leaving to pursue interests in the private sector, until coming back to challenge for the leadership of the party in 1985.
“Don Getty will be remembered for the importance he placed on family, for the care and dedication he brought to his duties as a minister and premier and for the great pride he always carried as an Albertan and a Canadian,” said Lieutenant-Governor Lois E. Mitchell, in a statement.
Not always a universally loved figure in the province, Getty struggled early on to address an economic slowdown and falling energy prices, which — not unlike today — impacted Alberta’s non-renewable resource based economy especially hard. While instituting cuts to social spending to tackle growing deficits, government attempts at intervention to stimulate the market system were largely failures, and the province’s debt had reached $11 billion by the time Getty left office.
A staunch advocate of constitutional revisionism, Getty pushed for Senate reform to be included in the failed Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accords, the latter of which was rejected by a majority of Albertans. Back in Alberta, Getty suffered an embarrassing defeat in his home riding of Edmonton-Whitemud in the 1989 election, which forced the PC MLA for Stettler to step down to allow Getty to run in a by-election in a PC-friendly riding in order to return to the legislature.
“His contributions to our province are many, including his work to establish Albertans’ constitutional rights as owners of our province’s natural resources, his role in the creation of the Heritage Savings Trust Fund, the introduction of self-government for Metis settlements, and economic diversification in the sectors of forestry, tourism, technology and non-conventional energy,” said Premier Rachel Notley, in a statement.
Getty’s government is also credited with the creation of Family Day, adding another annual long weekend for Albertans.
“His greatest legacy was his support of families and the introduction of Family Day – a holiday where Alberta families could spend time together, strengthen bonds and reconnect,” continued Notley. “Several other provinces followed suit, and Family Day is now celebrated in Saskatchewan, Ontario and British Columbia.”
Getty’s state funeral takes place this Saturday at All Saints Cathedral in Edmonton at 11 a.m.