EDMONTON — Jim Prentice, the last premier of Alberta’s 44−year Progressive Conservative dynasty, was honoured Monday as a man of courage and vision — and one who couldn’t resist meeting with school tours when they passed by his office.
"(He would) totally divert the planned tour by saying to the children, ’Have you been in the premier’s office?’" his wife, Karen Prentice, recounted to dignitaries at the unveiling of Prentice’s portrait at in the legislature rotunda on Monday.
"He would invite them in, show them around, and give each of them the opportunity to sit in the premier’s chair.
"I honestly believe his hope was that the experience would inspire more than one of these children to become involved in politics one day, and perhaps even become premier."
Jim Prentice died in October 2016, at age 60, when the light plane he was in crashed in the lake country just outside Kelowna, B.C.
He was Alberta’s 16th premier, taking over in September of 2014 but losing to Premier Rachel Notley and her NDP in the May 2015 election. His Progressive Conservatives have since merged with the opposition Wildrose party to form the new United Conservatives.
Notley recalled Prentice as a man committed to alleviating child poverty and honouring the promise of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.
She said that after the election loss, in a handover meeting, Prentice stressed the importance of continuing the progress on a deal with the Lubicon in northern Alberta over their land claim.
She said he told her: "We’re close. I think it’s possible to get this done."
Notley’s government was able to strike an agreement with the Lubicon last year.
"He saw a path forward and he advised me how to travel that path for which I and many, many others are very grateful," Notley said.
Chief Tony Alexis of the Alexis Nakota Sioux Nation lauded Prentice for working to build bridges with First Nations people.
"Although we didn’t agree on all issues, Prentice was respected in our community for his compassion and commitment to First Nation matters," said Alexis.
UCP Leader Jason Kenney, who worked with Prentice in the federal cabinet of former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, said Prentice was a man of "penetrating intelligence, dignity, and collegiality," who inspired those around him.
Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel, who was in Prentice’s cabinet, said family always came first and that one of his prize keepsakes is a photo of Prentice playing with his grandson and giving him a high−five at a legislature event.
Prentice was a lawyer, and a Conservative MP for Calgary from 2004 to 2010 and a cabinet minister in three portfolios: Indian and Northern Affairs, Industry, and Environment.
He joined the banking sector in 2010 but returned to politics in 2014 to run to become Alberta’s PC leader and premier, replacing former PC premier Alison Redford who stepped down.
The portrait, by artist David Goatley, depicts Prentice standing and staring straight ahead, both palms down on the marble railing of the legislature, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and tie.
Karen Prentice said Jim picked Goatley and spoke with him, but never got a chance to sit for him.
"We think (the portrait) captures Jim’s wishes," she said.
"Jim’s gaze in the portrait is looking to the future and what comes next."
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press