Hail the conquering hero … now starring Jim Prentice, above. Actual Progressive Conservative Enlightened Beings may not appear exactly as illustrated. Below: Non-leadership contenders Ken … Ken, we hardly knew ye! … Hughes, Doug Horner, Diana McQueen and Jonathan Denis.

And then there were two…

Ken Hughes, the former minister of municipal affairs and energy and the first candidate to enter the 2014 race to lead the Alberta Progressive Conservatives, has pulled out of the contest, bowing to the inevitability of a Jim Prentice coronation.

For his part, Mr. Prentice, the Calgary banker and former federal politician, continues to play cute about whether or not he’s going to run to lead the sad-sack Tories back to the dynastic confidence they have enjoyed for more than four decades. But I guess we’re all forced to conclude that his ascension to the giddy heights of power, Alberta style, is a foregone conclusion.

After all, the mainstream media keeps saying an “official” source who can’t be named has confirmed it. An anonymous official source – now there’s a concept! Tory Government, Alberta style? Maybe they’ll hold the leadership convention in secret and send up a puff of white smoke when they approve a premier.

So we’ll count Mr. Prentice as one candidate, and former infrastructure minister Ric McIver, also from Calgary, as the other. Down from three Calgarians yesterday.

Mr. McIver declared his candidacy on May 7 to run for the job vacated by the catastrophic Alison Redford in March, when she was essentially fired by her own caucus, and temporarily filled by Premier Dave Hancock at the moment as he has himself fitted out for a set of judge’s robes.

Mr. Hughes, who was also the first chair of Alberta Health Services, had thrown his hat in the ring a month earlier, on April 7. But lately he’s had a hunted, nervous look about him, ever since the Jim Prentice candidacy began to take on the appearance of a giant juggernaut that would crush anything in its path. So his decision to bolt, revealed yesterday, hardly came as a complete surprise.

Still, Mr. Hughes’s statement to the media and endorsement of Mr. Prentice sounded pretty abject, almost as if someone from the party politburo had taken him aside and given him a brisk talking to.

“When it became apparent that Jim Prentice would consider leading Alberta over the past 10 days or so, I started to reflect on what is best for Alberta given the alternatives,” Mr. Hughes said in his statement. “After listening to many Albertans, it became clear there is a growing consensus that Jim Prentice is the leader Alberta needs now.”

“Many Albertans.” Right…

On Sunday, Attorney General Jonathan Denis, who had been touted as a candidate by himself at any rate, announced he wasn’t going to run either and would also be supporting Mr. Prentice.

Last Thursday, Finance Minister Doug Horner, who had been widely touted as a likely candidate, and would have been a good one, said he wasn’t going to run. He was pretty brave and didn’t actually endorse Mr. Prentice by name, saying only that he would support a candidate who has not “officially” yet declared.

Given what the media’s been saying about Mr. Prentice, maybe that means Mr. Horner has Labour Minister and former Deputy Premier Thomas Lukaszuk in mind. Not likely, but it’s an amusing prospect nonetheless.

The same day, another rumoured leadership candidate, Energy Minister Diana McQueen, ruled herself out of the race as well. She noted: “I think we just have some outstanding candidates who are running.” (Jim Prentice?)

Have I missed anyone?

So that leaves the aforementioned Mr. Lukaszuk still mulling the idea of a run – he’s promised to give us all his answer this week. Mr. McIver is still officially a candidate, although, like Mr. Hughes, he may now be regretting his imprudently early entry into the race. That said, he’s scrappy and seems determined to make a fight of it now that he’s in.

If this exodus of qualified insider candidates is supposed to create the impression of huge popular support for Mr. Prentice, I’m not sure that it’s actually having that effect. One suspects it looks more to a lot of Albertans like a parade of rats scrambling down the hawser of a doomed ship as it lies at anchor before its last voyage. But that’s just me, with my deeply ingrained dislike of right-wing political dynasties and well-known weakness for maritime metaphors.

If a leadership race with few or no candidates opposing the frontrunner is supposed to generate suspense and excitement among voters, not to mention new members from outside the party’s traditional ranks, as past Tory contests have done, this situation isn’t going to have that kind of impact either.

And if the steep $50,000 entry fee for candidates was supposed to raise money for a cash-poor party, the Tories can forget about that too. But then, perhaps the party elders decided to stop worrying about that idea when they realized Mr. Prentice was the only candidate with the ability to raise significant donations from the corporate sector. He is, after all, a big shot with a bank, and as robber Willie Sutton famously explained it so clearly, “that’s where the money is.”

Lots of people, including many whose views I respect, think Mr. Prentice really will be the answer to the PCs’ problems, and that he really will enable the party to renew its brand and revive its prospects for another generation in power.

But this lack of interest by qualified candidates with deep roots in the provincial PC party, not to mention the giddy anointment of a congenial outsider known by almost no one who is not a charter member of the province’s chattering classes is a sign both of desperation and the party’s profound problems.

If the Tories had a better chance of winning the next general election, more and better candidates would be running. It’s as simple as that. This leadership race is a sign of the Progressive Conservative Party’s final decline.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

Join the Conversation


  1. What – no other sacrificial lambs (or actual non-metaphoric lambs for that matter) have trotted out to head the herd?

  2. The fact of Prentice’s relatively good political record in engaging with First Nations is, in my guess, a significant factor driving all the backroom, elite support, in addition to his communication skills as noted in ‘chattering class’ reports.

    AB’s petro-political elite know very well that the most important and growing barrier to tarsands expansion is First Nation opposition. And most importantly they get the significance of FN’s extensive record of winning legal precedents that continue to empower First Nations to block petro-industry expansion. Petro-propaganda is moving the needle for them with public opinion generally, but it doesn’t affect legal precedents that FN’s have won.

    So whoever is going to lead the PC’s, ideally, must be suited to deal politically with this FN political power.

    First Nationsl opposition has been the showstopper. Opposition against tarsands expansion/exports organized by the environmental movement based on climate change arguments would still exist, but both Gateway and KXL would be done deals. As would Kinder Morgan. FN’s have the necessary legal precedents to continue fighting even beyond regulatory processes like NEB’s.

    So, my guess…Prentice is the only guy available that has secured the endorsements of the Calgary petro-political elite’s, right now.

    He’s the only player available that comes with the appropriate corporate and political CV to serve the petro-industry needs of negotiating successfully with First Nation’s who increasingly hold all legal cards against expanding the tarsands and with the communication skills to have a credible chance to re-boot a productive relationship with the USA re AB petro exports.

    Industry likely believes that given his record at the federal level, that Prentice is the best option to lead negotiation of peace accords with First Nations to get back to relatively unhindered tarsands expansion.

    And substantive peace accords that rebulid relationships will be necessary because First Nations are demonstrating that they no longer have patience for sham consultations. It’s been reported that all First Nations have now left the Joint Oil Sands Monitoring process which was supposed to serve as the vehicle to demonstrate to the world that tarsands were being developed “responsibly”.

    So… FN’s leaving the AB tables, significant FN lawsuits underway, that threaten to provide more leverage for FN’s against tarsands expansion, and more being launched all the time.

    Prentice to the rescue? Probably a big factor.

    Prentice according to some in the ‘chattering classes’ is a very smooth communicator.

    A criticism of Stelmach was that his communication skills and style were not adequate to sell the petro-industry talking ponts to international audiences (in addition of course, to his fatal proposed royalty hikes on his petro-partners).

    My view, as is apparent… I don’t think much happens of significance in the PC’s and Wildrose parties without the support of the Calgary petro-political elite. This started immediately when Klein was installed, and has become S.O.P. since the lessons of industry push-back against Stelmach’s royalty review and the massive switch of petro-industry donations to Wildrose from the PC’s as punishment for threatening AB’s most powerful vested interest. Or at least the petro-industry has to signal it has no objections.

    Stelmach to his credit had tried to find a way to get back to Lougheed’s royalty regime, that Klein had given away. And industry taught the PC’s and Stelmach a lesson that no political party in AB will forget.

    In the petro-industry’s shoes, why wouldn’t you hire Prentice?

    If it turns out he isn’t delivering on tarsands expansion, then they still got their solution to the Stelmach aberration, the Smith/WRP backup option for 2016.

    Sam Gunsch

  3. So, does Hughes get his “non-refundable” $50,000 deposit back if someone in the party hierarchy had “a quiet word” with him?

  4. If you’re doing the head-hunting for CAPP, who’re you going to put on the top of the pile?

    Prentice, Hughes, McIver, Horner, Lukaszuk?

    excerpt: ‘Hiring Jim Prentice to assist in aboriginal consultations was an excellent decision, given his credibility among all parties”


    Jim Prentice
    Rain-maker (a.k.a. bitumen broker, petro-white-knight, thus PC savior )

    2: a person (as a partner in a law firm) who brings in new business; also : a person whose influence can initiate progress or ensure success



    excerpt: “Enbridge has worked hard to make up for early mistakes. Hiring Jim Prentice to assist in aboriginal consultations was an excellent decision, given his credibility among all parties. But now that Mr. Prentice has jumped into the Alberta PC leadership race, who has the credibility with all parties to fill that important role?”

    Answer: Jim Prentice. And! as Premier of Alberta, able to bring substantial resources to the table to offer FNations to build petro-peace accords.

    re: Skills and core competencies of AB petro-premier:

    Energy industry consultant Dan Seekings says the federal government is going to have to demonstrate superior diplomatic skills with First Nations to keep the Northern Gateway pipeline project from sinking in a roiling sea of lawsuits and politics. “A long, drawn-out legal battle would not only delay addressing significant First Nation issues, most of which will need to be addressed eventually, but might result in Canada missing its window of opportunity — not to mention billions of dollars in lost government revenue.”


    “Even bank executive Jim Prentice, who used to be the Petroleum Club’s best friend in Harper’s cabinet, is urging a softer touch. “The constitutional obligation to consult with First Nations is not a corporate obligation,” he wrote in the Vancouver Sun. “It is the federal government’s responsibility.”

    “accepted a job with Calgary-based Enbridge to help clear the way for the proposed Northern Gateway oil pipeline.”

    “Prentice practised law in Calgary for more than 20 years and specialized in property rights and aboriginal land claims. He was a land-claims negotiator for the Alberta government before he ran for leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative party in 2003.”

    “He served in cabinet in the industry, environment and aboriginal affairs portfolios. He was the federal minister who negotiated the residential schools settlement in 2006.”

    And who do you send to Washington D.C. and Davos?

    Yeah… I do go on.
    Sam Gunsch

    Sam Gunsch

  5. Jim Prentice:

    The best CEO for the PCAA plus Big Oil AB Joint-venture.

    Corporatism in AB since Klein. Stelmach had to walk the plank due to royalty review.

    Prentice says never again, partner.


    GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. – GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. — Alberta Tory leadership candidate Jim Prentice says he’s the one who can navigate the myriad of challenges to get the Northern Gateway pipeline built to the B.C. coast.

    Prentice said in a prepared speech Wednesday that a strong leader is needed to forge agreements for the pipeline.

    “There will be no access to the Asia Pacific basin for our energy unless we strike a partnership with the government of British Columbia and a partnership with First Nations, including, in particular, the coastal First Nations,” said Prentice.

    “To be frank, none of that will happen without the right individual serving as our premier.”

    Prentice, a former Calgary Conservative MP, is one of three contenders vying to become the next provincial party leader and premier.

    Prentice oversaw First Nations and environment issues when he served in Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s cabinet.

    He also worked on Asia economic issues as an executive with CIBC.

    And before he decided to run in Alberta’s Tory leadership race, he worked with First Nations on the pipeline on behalf of the pipeline builder, Enbridge.

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