'A great Albertan, a great Canadian': Jim Prentice honoured in state memorial
Former Alberta premier and federal cabinet minister was killed in a plane crash on Oct. 13
Jim Prentice, the former Alberta premier and federal cabinet minister, was remembered during a state memorial Friday as a skilled politician, a loving family man and a dedicated servant to the people of Canada.
Master of ceremonies Jason Hatcher, a close friend who worked with Prentice early in his political career, said the gathering was to pay tribute to all of Prentice's life.
"Today we are not here to remember a politician but rather a great person, a great Albertan, a great Canadian," he said.
"Jim was a husband, a father, a grandfather, a brother, an uncle, a friend, a mentor."
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The 2,500-seat Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Calgary hosted the service, which began with a recognition that it was being held on traditional land of Treaty 7 First Nations and with an Aboriginal honour song, performed by the Black Otter Singers.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper, who was among numerous high-profile public figures in attendance, described Prentice as a "dedicated, knowledgeable and respected" politician but, above all, a family man.
"We've lost a colleague and a friend, you've lost so much more," he said, speaking directly to Prentice's widow and three daughters.
"I could see how deeply he loved his family. I could tell you his whole being would literally just light up when he talked about the strong, successful and loving women in his life."
Harper said Prentice was a trusted member of his cabinet who could be relied on, no matter the task.
"We gave the hardest assignments to the people best able to handle them and Jim was always one of those people," he said.
"Jim served Canadians in vital and difficult ministries where his principles, his pragmatism and his sense of decency made a difference."
Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, whose own father, also a politician, was killed in a plane crash in October 1984, offered her condolences to the Prentice family, as well.
"The airplane that doesn't land when it was expected to, the phone call at night, the terrible truth of what happened slowly becoming clear the following day — no family should have to live through this, but we are here today because they sometimes do," she said.
Notley said Alberta and Canada are stronger because of Prentice's leadership and public service, which was often ahead of its time.
She highlighted, in particular, his commitment to Aboriginal affairs.
"Premier Prentice cared passionately about restoring a relationship of respect between the government of Alberta and our province's Indigenous people," she said. "Here, too, he was being a visionary leader."
Among those in attendance at the memorial were interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose, B.C. Premier Christy Clark, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, former prime minister Joe Clark and former opposition leader Preston Manning.
Prentice, 60, was aboard a twin-engine Cessna Citation that crashed on Oct. 13, shortly after takeoff from Kelowna, B.C., en route to the Springbank Airport just outside Calgary.
Three other men died in the crash, including retired Calgary businessman Sheldon Reid and optometrist Dr. Ken Gellatly, the father-in-law of Prentice's daughter Cassia, along with Jim Kruk, the pilot.
Their funeral services were held earlier in October.
Cassia said she has been struggling deeply with the loss of both her father and father-in-law and remembered both fondly.
"Our family will forever treasure the memories of their laughter together in what we could not have known would be their final days," she said.
"The tragedy of their passing remains impossible to believe and today I find I am still not ready to say goodbye to my father, to our bedrock. But, because my father cared so deeply about this country, this province and the people in it, we know that we do not grieve alone. Broken and shattered, we must all today stand tall on the foundations that he laid: integrity, kindness, hard work and community, but most importantly, the love of family."
Born July 20, 1956, near Timmins, Ont., Prentice moved with his family to Grand Cache, Alta., when he was 13.
He earned a law degree while working summers in a coal mine, and was an entrepreneur and energy analyst.
But politics was always a passion for Prentice, who started working for federal and provincial parties at age 20, mostly in back rooms, before stepping into the spotlight later in life.
Apart from one failed run for provincial office in 1986, he said he had an agreement with his wife, Karen, to wait until their three children were grown before venturing into the rigours of elected life.
Prentice didn't take a another political run until 2002, when he earned the Progressive Conservative nomination for a byelection in Calgary Southwest, but later withdrew.
The federal conservative movement was in turmoil at the time, fractured between the PCs and the Canadian Alliance.
Prentice urged reunification and stepped aside so that Alliance Leader Stephen Harper could run unopposed to represent the centre-right.
During the memorial, Harper reflected on the phone call he received from Prentice during that byelection campaign, informing him of his plans to resign as a candidate. It was the first conversation the two ever had.
"What Jim did, which was the essence of the man, was to put his ambition to the service of the wider cause and of the greater public good," Harper said.
"Jim's act was also an important one of many that contributed to the formation of the new Conservative Party of Canada a year and a half later."
In 2004, at age 47, Prentice won the riding of Calgary Centre–North for the newly merged Conservative Party.
In 2006, the Conservatives formed government and Prentice was named to cabinet, first as minister of Indian and northern affairs, then industry and, finally, environment.
But a defining moment, he said, came before his cabinet days when the Conservatives were still the Opposition in 2005.
Breaking ranks with his party and many constituents, Prentice voted for a controversial Liberal bill endorsing same-sex marriage.
Prentice resigned as an MP in 2010 and returned for the private sector, taking a senior post with CIBC.
He returned to politics in 2014, running for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative party.
Prentice won handily and became Alberta's 16th premier.
He then negotiated the stunning floor crossing of nine MLAs from the opposition Wildrose party and called a snap election to seek a proper mandate.
Several stumbles in the campaign, however, and the weight of nearly 44 years of PC rule in the province, led to the party's defeat in May 2015.
Prentice resigned on election night, as both party leader and MLA.
In lieu of flowers, the Prentice family asks that donations be directed to the Children's Cottage Society. Donations can be made online or by mailing cheques to Unit 204, 2120 Kensington Road N.W., Calgary T2N 3R7.
The public is also invited to sign condolence books, which will remain available until 5 p.m. Friday. The books can be found at the Alberta legislature rotunda in Edmonton and the McDougall Centre in downtown Calgary.
An online condolences page will also be available until Nov. 1.