The premier of this western Canadian province, Peter Lougheed, has just about all that a politician needs these days - virtually unlimited amounts of oil, gas and other energy sources that make Alberta an uncanny cross between Texas and Saudi Arabia.
Since the 1973 world oil crisis, this once sleepy agricultural province has been propelled from genteel poverty to great wealth. It now has the highest per capita income in Canada, lowest taxes, the least unemployment and more money than even the politicians know what to do with.
While the rest of Canada reels under 10 percent unemployment and revenue shortages, Alberta's budget surplus last year ran close to $2 billion. It would have been even greater had Lougheed not created a separate "rainy day" savings account in 1976 for excess royalties from gas and oil.
The account, known as the Heritage Fund, has swelled to $4.7 billion and currently is growing by about $3 million each day from interest payments and new royalties. That figure will increase sharply next month when higher energy prices become effective.
Given Alberta's vast resources, and population of 1.9 million, Lougheed has leverage that seems to make him unbeatable in any provincial elections for years to come. Running for reelection last spring, Lougheed could simply dip into the treasury for $1 billion to wipe off all municipal debts in the province. His Conservatives took 75 of the legislature's 79 seats, creating a carpentry problem now that the government benches dominate both sides of the aisle.
With such embarrassment of riches, local jokers say, Lougheed may decide next time around to give ach Albertan a fur coat or a trip to Hawaii as a gesture of government benevolence.
Albertans generally say that their main local business is oil - they produce 1.2 million barrels per day or 90 percent of Canada's output. But oil itself is not nearly as important as natural gas; then there is heavy oil and vast tar sands that contain enormous potential oil reserves; and finally coal, a shiek's ransom of coal that is an insurance policy once the wells dry up.
Lougheed entered politics at the right time, just before OPEC nations quadrupled the oil prices. Up to that point, the province, which is roughly the size of Texas, was known as "tomorrow country." It could never deliver. Ravaged by the Great Depression, in 1939 it was spending about half of its budget to pay its debts. In 1969 it was still getting welfare subsidies from the wealthy manufacturing provinces of Eastern Canada.
Oil first was found here in 1947, but its production was expensive. Middle Eastern oil was far cheaper. Moreover, before Lougheed took power in 1971, Alberta was leasing its fields to oil companies for relatively low rent.
Once the energy crisis became serious, Lougheed seized the opportunity to create conditions that turned Alberta into the sparkplug of Canada's economy. In many ways he symbolizes the new Alberta, its wealth, its enterpreneurial fervor and its assertive confidence in the future.
Alberta blossomed over the past six years much in the same way Texas did during earlier decades. Today the cities of Edmonton and Calgary look as if they are being recreated. Sprouting skyscrapers are rapidly changing the skyline as U.S., Japanese and European firms open offices in a rush reminiscent of a similar boom in Houston.
Since mineral rights in Canada belong to provincial governments, not the central government in Ottawa, Lougheed seized on that provincial prerogative to form an unusual alliance of private and public interests. It blends the Conservatives' considerable respect for private enterprise and profits with a socialist notion of government intervention.
The speed and skill with which he pushed legislative measures to secure control over management of natural resources and the assertiveness with which he defended provincial interests against Ottawa's encroachment have turned him into a national figure. It earned him the reputation of being simultaneously a charming, charismatic leader and Billy the Kid, the fastest gun in the West.
The key part of Lougheed's legislation was the creation of the Alberta Petroleum Marketing Commission, which became the exclusive agent for marketing all gas and oil produced. The province takes royalties in kind from all production, 42 percent of all oil and almost 50 percent of all gas. The commission also sets prices, reviews demand and assesses reserves.
In practice, according to commission chairman Wayne Minion, this involves merely paperwork, with oil and gas companies doing business as usual. But the province has full power over the companies to reward or punish.
For Lougheed, 51, a Harvard Business School graduate, this arrangement under which both oil companies and the state are prospering is the best path to balanced growth.
He spent a summer working in the petroleum industry in Tulsa, Okla., in the early 1950s when it was in a steep decline as an oil-producing state. Tulsa, he contends, is something Alberta must avoid: "If you want to see what happens when the oil industry moves on, go to Tulsa. It's a dead city."
Another, perhaps deeper, impulse motivates Lougheed and his men to seek security. As teen-agers, they experienced the Great Depression and collapse. Lougheed's grandfather, James Lougheed, settled in Alberta before it joined the Canadian federation in 1905, became a multi-millionaire through shrewd real-estate deals and a senator in Ottawa. He was one of the few Canadians to be knighted.
Peter Lougheed's father, Edgar, is generally regarded as having been a failure. His vast inheritance was dissipated and Peter saw his family's mansion and furnishings being auctioned off. His drive to succeed, according to those who know him well, is fueled by his desire to restore the family's good name.
He studied law at the University of Alberta, ran back punts for the Edmonton Eskimos, then went to Harvard Business Schoo. He returned to Calgary to join a construction-engineering firm, and moved up from employee to general counsel, vice president and director in five years.
Everybody here agrees that Lougheed runs the province as a strong corporate executive, so much so that his government is jokingly referred to as "Alberta Inc." His is a one-man show. His first cabinet team was made up of 10 successful businessmen and nine corporate lawyers. But final decisions are always his, friends say.
While there are no known instances of corruption, critics point out that Lougheed packed the civil service with his football buddies, business cronies and political yes-men. When he took over in 1971, Alberta had 18,518 civil servants; last year the number was 48,025.
Apart from this network of friends, Lougheed has won the backing of Alberta's ethnic minorities - the Ukrainians, Poles, Hungarians, Italians, Yugoslavs and others who comprise more than one third of the population - by lavish support of their ethnic cultural programs and folk dances.
Trying to demonstrate just how easily money was spent on such activities, a local radio reporter, Len Grant, sent a letter of the minister of culture asking support for a fictitious ethnic group. He immediately received $2,280 without any questions asked.
Local critics of Lougheed - and they are distinct a minority - argue that his government is not spending enough on social programs. Alberta's wealth altracts roughly 30,000 persons annually to settle here seeking their fortune. This puts a strain on services and housing.
Alberta's vast financial resources produce far more strident criticism elsewhere in Canada, where the Albertans are accused of greed that causes regional disparities and national disunity.
A recent article in the Toronto Globe and Mail charged that "Alberta is the prime surrogate domestic beneficiary of OPEC greed."
Arguing that his first obligation is to the people of Alberta, Lougheed cited expenditures over the past two years - $150 million for medical research, $100 million for energy research, $750 million in various types of housing assistance, substantial amounts for irrigation schemes in southern Alberta, and $92 million in favorable loans to other provinces.
Sitting in his office, which is remarkably unpretentious for a major political figure, Lougheed talked about depleting oil and gas resources: "Ever since entering public life, my preoccupation has been with the fact that Alberta's economy is too vulnerable, too dependent on the sale of the non-renewable resources."
His overriding interest - and the reason that he refused leadership of the national Conservative Party that would most likely have made him prime minister of Canada - is to insure the viability of Alberta's economy, he said. This is why "we are investing so much in research and development," he added, saying: "We are going to make Alberta the brain center of Canada."
Because Alberta is isolated, lougheed had the province buy an airline to make sure it would have good connections with the rest of the world. Because Alberta is landlocked, he is ready to help finance the construction of a large port in British Columbia to handle Alberta's agricultural exports. Forty percent of Canada's wheet and 40 percent of its beef are produced in Alberta.
Alberta's crude oil reserves are estimated at 10.5 billion barrels, while natural gas reserves are estimated at between 140 and 150 trillion cubic feet.These would be depleted in a decade or two Lougheed said, and what then?
"We don't want to have a great party for 10 to 15 years and then leave a legacy of high spending to our children," he said.
Most Albertans, who feel that they had been a colonial adjunct of eastern Canada for too long, argue that Lougheed represents the emerging economic and political maturity of the Canadian West. They say Alberta is making its contribution to Canada by delivering oil at $12 per barrel, or nearly half the world price.
A more critical view of the Albertan premier is given by Ottawa columnist Richard Gwynn, who wrote, "There are really two Lougheeds - one is the brilliant manager and organizer, the visionary, the Alberta patriot. The other is the little guy who made it to the top and who still can't quite believe it." CAPTION: Picture, New skyscrapers are rapidly changing the skyline of Calgary, as foreign companies open offices there. AP; Graph, no caption, By Richard Furno - The Washington Post