Opinion Editorial

Canadians mourn fair-minded Prentice

Outgoing Premier Jim Prentice waves after his speech at the Alberta PC Dinner in Calgary, Alberta on Thursday May 14, 2015. According to media reports former Alberta premier Prentice died Thursday in a plane crash outside of Kelowna, British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDouga

Outgoing Premier Jim Prentice waves after his speech at the Alberta PC Dinner in Calgary, Alberta on Thursday May 14, 2015. According to media reports former Alberta premier Prentice died Thursday in a plane crash outside of Kelowna, British Columbia. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDouga

At one time, Jim Prentice was touted by many as a prime minister in waiting, a moderate, nice-guy unite-the-righter who would have been a fitting successor to Stephen Harper when the time came to pass the mantle.

But political disaster drove Prentice out of frontline politics. His shocking death in a plane crash last week leaves a gap in the Conservative family, and in the story of both federal and provincial policy making.

Born in Ontario, Prentice was a person "of modest means who worked in coal mines to fund his way through university," said Harper, who spoke of his former colleague's "personal tenacity" and his success working his way up in the world of business and law.

The former prime minister has good reason to speak kindly of Prentice: he stepped aside as the Progressive Conservative nominee in Calgary-Southwest in 2002 so Harper could run there. Prentice rejoined the federal fray for the 2004 election, serving as a Calgary-area MP until 2010.

An early advocate of uniting the conservative movement, he took on tricky cabinet posts under Harper that would have challenged many Tories: industry, environment, Indian Affairs. In the company of some Conservatives still dallying on the far right edges of their party, he was clearly a moderate, respected even by the Green party. In opposition, he voted for the Liberals' then-controversial bill supporting same-sex marriage. As environment minister, he rejected the Prosperity Mine near Fish Lake, B.C. He was an appealing, big-tent Tory.

But Prentice's political career went south on his return to Alberta to become Progressive Conservative leader and premier. Voters rejected the crass manipulation that brought then-Wildrose leader Danielle Smith into the provincial Tory fold, and Prentice's robotic campaign performance in 2015 folded in the face of Rachel Notley's NDP.

That is an all-too-typical fate for politicians who, once defeated, pick themselves up and rebuild their lives as normal citizens. Prentice had been reinventing himself, among other things joining the Washington think-tank the Wilson Center, and planning a book on energy and environment.

At 60, Jim Prentice clearly still had much to give. One small sample of the respect he had earned came Friday from federal NDP leader and political foe Tom Mulcair, who said Prentice had a "deep sense of public service that was universally admired."

Canadians should mourn the loss of an intelligent, fair-minded political figure. At a time when our neighbours to the south have lost all sense of proportion, leaders such as Jim Prentice stand out all the more.



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