Lawrence Roy (Larry) Pratt (6 May, 1944- 28 October, 2012)
In 1971, four very young Assistant Professors were recruited by the Department of Political Science. Larry Pratt was easily the most brilliant of the four of us and the first to be promoted to the rank of full Professor in 1980. He taught at the University of Alberta for 28 years.
Although born in Toronto, Larry had moved to the small community of Robin outside of Kingston, ON after his parents separated. He received his Honours BA from Carleton, the Masters from the University of Toronto and his doctorate from L.S.E.
Across all four dimensions of a successful career -- teaching, collegiality, research and the public dissemination of significant information -- Dr. Pratt was fully engaged throughout his illustrious career, usually running at full throttle.
As an instructor, he was known to be a dedicated but demanding teacher of International Relations. From Thucydides to the Suez, he knew his stuff and taught it with precision and verve. For the sturdiest of his students he was a challenging mentor, guide and supervisor.
As a colleague, Larry Pratt was active in the department throughout his career, serving on various committees and acting as Associate Chair from 1975-77. As former Chair Roberta McKown wrote in support of his promotion, “He is a brilliant, hardworking and very nice colleague.” In 1975, Dr. Pratt was instrumental in securing a five year grant ($50K per annum) from the DND to establish the “Strategic Studies Centre” in our department which, in those days, was sufficient to hire a director and staff. He also co-authored important works with Drs. Allan Tupper and Ian Urquhart. He was a founding member of Studies in Political Economy and served on its editorial board as well as those of Canadian Forum and the Canadian Journal of Political Science.
But it is for his Life as Researcher that he will be best remembered in academic circles and, in these conversations, three of his books will feature most prominently.
His first book, developed from his PhD dissertation, was East of Malta, West of Suez: Britain’s Mediterranean crisis, 1936-1939 of which an assessor and Lecturer at LSE (Michael Fry) wrote this: “he combines a powerful mind, a great devotion into scholarship, the ability to work hard, and both breadth and imagination” and specifically stipulated that “Pratt’s [Suez] book broke new ground … [it is] a significant contribution.” From his promotion file (1980) Colin Leys of Queen’s also noted that Larry “was exceptionally gifted and productive,” and Richard Simeon (Queen’s) observed that “Among the students of Canadian politics he stands out among the two or three most active, able and with the most interesting new work.”
Pratt’s co-authorship (with John Richards) of Prairie Capitalism: Power and Influence in the New West was to define him as one of the most powerful intellects in Canadian political economy theory. In a review of this work, Richard Simeon concluded that “Unlike some other exponents of political economy his work is characterized by an openness and lack of dogma on the one hand, and a very careful regard for empirical material on the other.” Prairie Capitalism was one of three finalists for the Governor-General’s non-fiction Award in 1980 and received a Certificate of Merit from the Canadian Historical Association.
It has been said by many that all this book had attempted was simply something that had never been done before in Western Canadian historiography, to that point a field in which the literature had been almost exclusively narrative (Jeremy Mouat, interview 2005). In his CPA review, Canada’s most pre-eminent scholar of the Canadian political nationality, Donald Smiley, wrote “I cannot comment on Prairie Capitalism except in superlatives; by a wide margin I find it the most stimulating and intellectually satisfying book in Canadian Affairs that has appeared in the past decade.”
Third, there was The Tar Sands: Syncrude and the Politics of Oil (Hurtig, 1976)! This is a work that has framed Alberta’s most important policy problem for 36 years. This book, with caricatures of Peter Lougheed and Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau trapped in oilsands goo on the cover, sold 13,000 copies. It was made into a CBC docudrama (which came complete with its own $2.7 million lawsuit). In a March, 1976 essay, Edmonton Report observed that “L.R. Pratt has been performing a little political science of his own these past two years and as a result has become a much more formidable foe of the Lougheed government than any of the elected members who face it across the floor…”
Later on, Larry would be more self-effacing. In a June, 2009 interview with Darcy Henton of the Edmonton Journal he remembered that “he wrote his 200-page book in just four months, sitting at a picnic table in his backyard that summer. ’I was pissed off about the power the oil companies were demonstrating--what I would call coercion or economic blackmail,’ he recalls. ‘I felt quite radical at that point. I was in not a good mood.’”
Even today, the web remains vibrant with debate surrounding the oilsands as a policy issue, a public forum to which Larry contributed until 2011, invariably beginning with Pratt’s definition of the pith and substance of the matter. As I read the passage of these past 36 years, all five of his projected adverse consequences have evolved almost exactly as he originally predicted.
That Larry Pratt would continue to be involved in public discussion of substantive matters would come as no surprise to those who knew him. Dr. Pratt was a nationalist and a socialist, an adherent of the ‘left-nationalist’ movement in Canada. He was a very public intellectual, a critical contrarian. Once a member of the (1969-74) Waffle within the NDP with his co-author John Richards, both men grew to become disillusioned with its “incomplete and flawed perspective.” Pratt was also a lightning rod for headlines. Those headlines from the late 1970s-early 1980s were usually along these lines: “Lougheed’s implicit separatism exposed;” “Journal fosters separatism, Pratt mentions in speech;” “Albertans tell each other ‘rubbish’ about Confederation;” and all too frequently some variation of “Alberta ‘heretic’ claims environmental …”
In the end, it can be said of my colleague Dr. Larry Pratt that what was important to him were simply the matters that matter.
 Larry Pratt, East of Malta, West of Suez: Britain’s Mediterranean crisis, 1936-1939, Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1975.
 Larry Pratt, The Tar Sands: Syncrude and the Politics of Oil, Edmonton: Hurtig, 1976.
 Larry Pratt, “The state and province-building: Alberta’s development strategy,” in Leo Panitch, ed., The Canadian State: Political Economy and Political Power, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1977, pp. 133-62.
 Larry Pratt and John Richards, Prairie Capitalism: Power and Influence in the New West, Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1979, pp. x, 340.
 Larry Pratt and Ian Urquhart, The Last Great Forest: Japanese Multinationals and Alberta's Northern Forests, Edmonton: NeWest Publishers Ltd., 1994.