PHOTOS: Former Alberta Premier Jim Prentice, who perished in an airplane crash in British Columbia Thursday night, in a characteristic pose. Below: More shots of Mr. Prentice doing what he was best at, making personal contact with potential supporters.
Its vast geography notwithstanding, by population Alberta is not that big a place, and political Alberta is little more than a small town, so the news yesterday that former premier Jim Prentice had perished in an airplane crash the night before in British Columbia resonated painfully.
Indeed, it seems like only yesterday Mr. Prentice strode onto Alberta’s provincial political stage, an articulate colossus, apparently unbeatable, exquisitely tailored, and almost Kennedyesque in his good looks. It was May 15, 2014.
But even after losing the 2015 election to the NDP 10 days short of a year later and immediately abandoning the political scene, Mr. Prentice cut a memorable figure – still fresh in political Alberta’s collective mind, the topic of endless hindsight and speculation – seemingly far younger than his 60 years.
Many of us have personal memories of Alberta’s 16th premier because, whatever his core philosophy, which remains a bit of a cipher, he was justly known as an effective conciliator – and no one can be good at conciliation without making personal contact with the people with whom one hopes to strike agreements.
As a person with an instinct for conciliation, Mr. Prentice tended to treat everyone who came in contact with him – petitioners, other politicians, influencers, community leaders, First Nations representatives, lobbyists, environmentalists, curious members of the public, journalists and even impertinent bloggers – with his trademark cordial reserve and respect.
To those who didn’t have the opportunity to meet Mr. Prentice, he seemed more remote than some other well-known Alberta politicians – both Ralph Klein and Ms. Notley spring to mind – and that may have influenced the way his short provincial political career unfolded. But the personal relationships he established with many people have vastly magnified the shock at his sudden death.
Ms. Notley spoke eloquently of this yesterday in a short tribute to her predecessor’s memory, describing “the profound sorrow and sympathy I feel, and that I know all Albertans feel” – reminiscent, I am sure, of the feelings she experienced on the death of her father in the crash of a small aircraft in northern Alberta in 1984. “There are no words adequate for moments like this, as my family knows very well.”
But while Mr. Prentice’s death is a tragedy for the province and a heartbreaking ordeal for his family – which also lost Ken Gellatly, father-in-law of one of Mr. Prentice’s daughters, in the crash of the small business jet – its political impacts are not likely to be far reaching.
This is simply because Mr. Prentice cut himself off so decisively from Alberta politics and the party he had briefly led as soon as the PC election loss was apparent on election night. “My contribution is now at an end,” he told supporters flatly upon conceding defeat that evening, stating that his decision was effective immediately. If he ever wavered from his determination to depart as quickly as possible and with such finality, it was never apparent.
So while the political results of that decision by Mr. Prentice continue to be felt throughout in Alberta – particularly in the leadership race now underway in his Progressive Conservative Party and the internal party debate over how and when, and even whether, the two parties of the right should be united – the tragedy of his death is not likely to much change the way that discussion unfolds.
Mr. Prentice’s family issued a short statement through the Government of Alberta saying that “to lose two family members at once is unbelievably painful and we are certain you will appreciate and respect our wishes for privacy at this time and the coming weeks.”
Mr. Prentice is survived by his wife, Karen, three daughters, and two grandchildren.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.