Dave Hancock, Alberta’s second-to-last Progressive Conservative premier, named by NDP as Provincial Court judge

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PHOTOS: Dave Hancock as premier, in pink shirt at left, at the Edmonton Pride Parade in June 2014. With him are former Edmonton City Councillor Michael Phair and City Councillor Scott McKeen. Below: Mr. Hancock speaks with the media at Government House in Edmonton on one of the darkest days of Alberta’s PC Government, March 13, 2014, when Premier Alison Redford was given her “work plan” by the Progressive Conservative Caucus, and Mr. Hancock’s official portrait, which now hangs in the Alberta Legislature Building.

Dave Hancock, respected lawyer and Alberta’s second-to-last Progressive Conservative premier, has at least achieved his ambition.

That, despite a half-hearted run at the PC Party leadership in 2006, was not to be the premier of this place, but to be a judge.

Acting Justice Minister Marlin Schmidt announced yesterday that Mr. Hancock, Queen’s Counsel, has been appointed as a judge of the Provincial Court of Alberta, Edmonton Family and Youth.

This was bound to happen sooner or later, as loyal readers of AlbertaPolitics.ca are sure to understand. After all, it was first suggested as a likely development in this space on Sept. 15, 2014, in a report on Mr. Hancock’s departure from the premier’s job and from his long-held position as an MLA. He stepped aside, as agreed upon when he took the job 176 days earlier, to make way for the elevation of Jim Prentice to the job Mr. Prentice was expected to occupy for many years.

It certainly wasn’t Mr. Hancock’s fault this didn’t turn out as anticipated.

“Everyone expects a swift judicial appointment to reward the outgoing premier pro tem before any other government has the opportunity to meddle with it,” I wrote at the time – presciently, as it turned out, on a couple of counts.

What I didn’t then expect, I will admit, was that the appointment would be made by a New Democratic Party government, or indeed that there would be an NDP government to do the deed. But there you go!

Mr. Hancock is the sort of respectable, not particularly ideological, big-tent Tory that people who hold other political views can get along with, find a compromise in order to get something done, and even quite like. In other words, he was no fundamentalist market warrior or self-righteous social conservative. So his elevation to the Bench by the NDP is not utterly out of character for a government of a non-conservative persuasion.

Mr. Hancock – Judge Hancock, as we’ll soon be saying – was born in Fort Resolution, N.W.T., grew up in Hazleton, British Columbia, and went to high school in Fort Vermilion, Alberta, which is an unusual and useful sort of upbringing for a Canadian judge, one would think. He was an active Tory from the beginning, president of the PC Alberta youth wing at the age of 19. Remember, though, in 1974 it may not have been particularly cool to be a Tory, but it was still an honourable enough pastime.

Mr. Hancock studied law at the University of Alberta in Edmonton and was called to the bar in 1980. The legal equivalent of a utility infielder, he practiced criminal, civil, family and corporate law.

Mr. Hancock was first elected in 1997 and spent the next 18 years as the MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud. He survived a couple of close electoral calls along the way, one to my colleague Donna Smith, a Liberal. He was the second premier to represent the riding, the first being Don Getty.

He was a utility infielder in government too, acquitting himself well as deputy premier, justice minister, health minister, education minister, and “human services” minister – all big-problem portfolios that can destroy a politician’s career. He was also Tory House Leader for a spell.

As noted, Mr. Hancock ran for the leadership of the party in 2006. He was expected to lose to a high-profile frontrunner like former finance minister Jim Dinning, or maybe Ted Morton, who would later be a finance minister himself. Instead, he lost to than intergovernmental affairs minister Ed Stelmach, who’d entered the race with a profile even lower than Mr. Hancock’s at the time.

Mr. Stelmach was premier until October 2011, when the PCs surprised everyone again and chose Alison Redford.

Mr. Hancock would have been a better premier that he was if he’d been the dark horse who won the contest in 2006, and thus had been able to take on the job without the tattered luggage he was handed by the departing Premier Redford when, party loyalist that he was, Mr. Hancock stepped up to manage the chaotic transition from her catastrophic two-and-a-half-year premiership in March 2014.

As part of the difficult transition, he clearly felt it was wisest to stick with a number of Ms. Redford’s worst policies – like her unconstitutional labour legislation, which sideswiped the free expression rights of all Albertans – rather than advocate the sounder policies he would much more likely have come up with on his own.

This mars the well-intentioned political career of this decent and thoughtful man. As I wrote at the time, “At the end of his political career, the whole thing looks like not much more than a long exercise in damage control, publicly justifying the worst excesses of his party’s leaders and cabinet. There was never a plan so bad, a policy so excessive, that Mr. Hancock wouldn’t stand up and defend it. … There’s something to be said for being a good soldier, I guess, but when it comes to writing hagiographies, it doesn’t really provide very promising material.”

So it’s no bad thing that Mr. Hancock will have an opportunity to do important work on the Bench for a few years and, when he retires, to be remembered in a more positive light.

Two other lawyers, neither of whom served as premier of Alberta, were also appointed to the Provincial Court yesterday – Marian De Souza in Calgary and Robert Shaigec in Edmonton.

Categories Alberta Politics