P. James Prentice, a well-respected lawyer who in 2014 became Alberta’s premier, died at 60 with three other people in a plane crash on Oct. 13.
The accident, about 170 miles east of Vancouver, occurred Thursday night when a twin-engine Cessna Citation carrying Prentice and two friends back to Calgary crashed shortly after take off near Kelowna, British Columbia. The group had reportedly been on a golfing trip. The pilot was also killed in the crash.
Prentice’s death has spurred an outpouring of admiration north of the border for the moderate Conservative Party politician, who in 2005 supported legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage, long before the idea gained more mainstream acceptance.
“Jim Prentice brought his deep convictions to everything he turned his hand to, whether it was law, business, or politics,” said a statement from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “He was broadly respected … across party lines … for his intelligence, commitment and honest straightforward approach on tough issues.”
Prentice, an environmental and First Nations claims expert, had his own Calgary-based firm called Rooney Prentice until 2005. Fraser Milner Casgrain, one of Canada’s largest firms, sought to expand its operations in Alberta that year by hiring both of Rooney Prentice’s name partners. Prentice, who became senior counsel at FMC, left the firm the following year after being elected to Canada’s House of Commons.
“Our little firm was named one of Canada’s top 10 litigation boutiques, a distinction of which Jim was very proud,” said his former colleague James Rooney, now counsel in Dentons’ litigation and dispute resolution group in Calgary. “He was intelligent, worked very hard, and was as honest as the day is long. You couldn’t ask for a better partner.”
Dentons, which absorbed FMC in late 2012, also forged an alliance last month with a consultancy formed by former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Prentice served as one of Harper’s most trusted cabinet ministers, assuming a variety of roles under the Conservative leader, including serving as minister for industry, the environment and Indian and northern affairs. Harper once called Prentice the “chief operating officer” of the Canadian government.
“Jim’s life was an inspirational story of achievement and sacrifice,” Harper said in his own tribute to Prentice. “A man born of modest means who worked in coal mines to fund his way through university, his success in business and law was a testament to his personal tenacity, while his turn to elected office was a tribute to his sense of public service.”
In November 2010, Prentice left Canada’s federal government and joined the Toronto-based Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce Co. (CIBC) as vice chair and senior executive vice president. At CIBC, Prentice became one of Canada’s “rainmakers,” as noted by The Globe and Mail in Toronto, although his time in the private sector would not last long.
In September 2014, he returned to Canadian politics at the provincial level after winning a landslide party vote to become Alberta’s premier following the resignation of fellow lawyer Alison Redford, who once articled for Prentice. The end of Canada’s energy boom, a period that saw large law firms flock to Calgary, made it a particularly challenging time to become oil-rich Alberta’s political leader.
In order to make budget, Prentice’s party faced a two-front fight after angering the political left and right by cutting public services and raising taxes. A general election in May 2015—one that Prentice called for early—saw his party’s longtime control of Alberta politics abruptly end, leading to his resignation.
After leaving public service, Prentice spent four months as a visiting fellow at The Wilson Center’s Canada Institute in Washington, D.C. Warburg Pincus then hired Prentice this summer as an adviser to the New York-based private equity giant’s energy group. At Warburg Pincus, Prentice helped the buyout firm evaluate investment opportunities in Canada.
Prentice grew up in a blue-collar family in Ontario, the son of Eric Prentice, the youngest-ever player to sign with the National Hockey League’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Prentice’s uncle also had a 22-year career in the NHL, and while Prentice himself was a promising young hockey player, after suffering a knee injury, father gave son some wise advice.
“My dad always said to me, ‘It’s better to be a great lawyer than an average hockey player,’ so I refocused,” Prentice once told the Edmonton Journal.
He is survived by his wife, Karen, a former in-house lawyer at Calgary-based utility giant Enmax Corp., as well as three daughters and two grandchildren. Dr. Kenneth Gellatly, a Calgary optometrist and father-in-law of one of Prentice’s daughters, was traveling with Prentice and died in the plane crash with him. The cause of the accident, which occurred just eight minutes after take off, has not yet officially been determined. Initial reports point to the possibility of an incapacitated pilot.