Jim Prentice waves following his speech at the Alberta PC Dinner in Calgary, Alberta on May 14, 2015. Jim Prentice died Thursday in a plane crash outside of Kelowna, British Columbia.
Photo Credit: CP / Larry MacDougal

Jim Prentice died in a small-plane crash in British Columbia

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Jim Prentice, the former premier of Alberta, and a valued cabinet minister in former Prime Minister Stephen Harper‘s Conservative government, died last night in a plane crash.

Prentice was one of four passengers aboard the twin-engine Cessna Citation that took off late in rainy weather, bound for his home in Calgary, Alberta.

“One of the most able and decent guys in politics”

Bill Yearwood, with the Transportation Safety Board confirmed today that the plane’s wreckage was found in Lake Country, British Columbia, just north of Kelowna. He described the crash as “unsurvivable.” “The aircraft is destroyed; all persons on board lost their lives,” Yearwood said.

Dr. Ken Gellatly, an optometrist and the father-in-law of Prentice’s daughter Cassia, also died in the crash. The Prentice family issued a statement describing the loss of two family members as “unbelievably painful.”

“Words cannot begin to express our profound shock and heartbreak,” the statement reads.

The shock and heartbreak reverberated out through the national Conservative party, the provincial conservatives in Alberta, and his many colleagues and friends in the other political parties, the media and the people he worked with in his several portfolios.

Don Iveson, a journalist with the National Post, described described Prentice as “one of the most able and decent guys in politics”. Often touted as the next Prime Minister, Prentice handled challenging ministries under Stephen Harper, including the environment, industry and Indian affairs.

Jim Prentice was instrumental laying the foundation of the historic Residential School Settlement with Canada’s First Nations. He doubled the size of many of Canada’s national parks and established the first national marine park. Fathom Park is located off Tobermory, Ontario between Georgian Bay and Lake Huron.

Described as a “very charming politician” Prentice spent some time in the private sector between returned to provincial politics in September 2014 after winning the leadership of the Progressive Conservative Party.

The following May 2015, in the midst of plunging oil prices, he suffered a crushing defeat when his party lost to Alberta’s NDP led by Rachel Notley. He then resigned both the party leadership and his position as a Member of the Legislative Assembly.

“There are no words adequate for moments like this, as my family knows very well,” Rachel Notley said. Her own father, also a politician. died in a plane crash on October 19, 1984.

She went on to say “[Prentice] worked tirelessly for all of us, in the true spirit of one who is committed to public service. I benefited from his advice, and the government of Alberta is continuing to pursue many of his initiatives. All Albertans are the better for this,” she said in a statement.

“He is an inspiration to all of us who aspire to public service.”

Naheed Nenshi, mayor of Calgary, expressed similar thoughts. “In politics, I get to work with people from all political stripes who are filled with a desire to do good no matter what. I also get to work with people who are thoughtful, respectful and driven by a need improve this community we all share,” he said.

“Jim was all of these things, and so much more. He is an inspiration to all of us who aspire to public service.”

Prentice was born on July 20, 1956, in South Porcupine in northern Ontario. His father, Eric, was a gold miner who’d had a great run, but a short one in professional hockey. The youngest player ever signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs at 17. he played five games with Toronto in 1943.  

When the gold was diminishing, the Prentice family moved in 1969 to Alberta and the mines there, first in Grande Cache, Alberta and then the Crowsnest Pass. Jim Prentice, who worked in the mine himself, also had a promising junior hockey career, that ended with an excruciating knee-on-knee hit. 

He then focused on his law degree at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia. He returned to Alberta, and began his career working on land and property rights. He became involved in politics around the same time, beginning in the back rooms and an eventual failed attempt at provincial office in 1986.

He then played a key role in the unite the right movement stepping aside so then-Alliance party leader, Stephen Harper, could run unopposed to represent the centre-right.

In the 2004 federal election, at age 47, Prentice won the Calgary riding for the new united Conservative Party. going to Ottawa for the first time.

It was in 2006, when Harper won a minority government, that Prentice became began his work as minister in the demanding portfolios.

Interim Conservative Leader Rona Ambrose, in an emotional address today, praised Prentice for his devotion to the party and public service and said he had much to be proud of in his political career, although that was just one aspect of his life.

“He was most proud of being a good husband, a good father and a very proud new grandfather,” she said.

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