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It has been a while since Alberta’s oil community found a kindred spirit like Jim Prentice to take a run at the premier’s chair.
After weeks of orchestrated suspense, Mr. Prentice picked up his nomination papers on Thursday, the first step on a path that could make him leader of Alberta’s reigning Progressive Conservative party by the fall. Seen as a superstar candidate, Mr. Prentice has been deliberately tight lipped about his plans, which he is expected to formally announce next week.
If all unfolds as strategized, the 57-year-old Mr. Prentice — a former aboriginal claims lawyer, federal Indian affairs, industry and environment cabinet minister, bank executive, and self-described ‘honest broker’ between the oil community and British Columbia aboriginals to resolve differences over the Northern Gateway pipeline — would be the most qualified Albertan to become premier since Peter Lougheed.
Many in the corporate community admire what they see as a great personal sacrifice to return to public service. Mr. Prentice is trading a well-paid banking career and top-drawer corporate directorships for the leadership of a stale political party that after 43 years in power may not win the next election.
Yet it’s not hard to see why Mr. Prentice, the gifted negotiator and public policy wonk, would want to bet it all to lead Alberta at this point in time: The province is at the heart of Canada’s reorientation into a global natural resources powerhouse. Choices made today will shape the future for decades. Mr. Prentice can contribute a unique set of skills to resolve differences between jockeying interests — aboriginals, environmentalists, governments, the energy community. Besides, it doesn’t look like the Prime Minister’s job, Mr. Prentice’s previous aspiration, is about to open any time soon.
Big Oil’s support for Mr. Prentice was as demonstrative as it could get during the PC Leader’s fundraising dinner last week in Calgary, which he chaired. He was responsible for the record turnout, largely from corporate Calgary. They came to see and to be seen.
Dave Hancock, Alberta’s interim premier, was introduced by none-other than Rick George — the oil sands pioneer and former president and CEO of Suncor Energy Inc. He is now chairman of Penn West Petroleum Ltd.
Some of the industry’s biggest names sponsored the event: Suncor, Imperial Oil Ltd., Cenovus Energy Inc., ARC Energy Resources Ltd., TransCanada Corp., MEG Energy Corp., and Penn West. Their backing was so overt their names were listed on the program and splashed on huge screens in Calgary’s vast convention hall.
A similar fundraiser two months ago hosted by Danielle Smith, leader of the official Opposition Wildrose Party, drew scarce corporate attendance, though there were many real voters from across the province.
Most of Wildrose’s donations come from individuals. The party has tried hard to get Big Oil’s ear, and has managed to get some support, but the energy sector likes to be associated with the party in power. There are many long-standing connections with the PCs that would be difficult to build anew. As one political insider put it: “Prentice is the path of least resistance for big money.”
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