Column I wrote for the Sun chain way back in April 2010 (have they kept me around that long?). Offered here for your amusement.
He’s amiable. He’s smart. He’s reasonably bilingual. He’s well respected. He’s got movie star good looks. He’s seen as a moderate in a cabinet bursting at the seams with deconstructed Reformers.
And, most notably, he is the Conservative who lots of Liberals fear the most.
He’s Jim Prentice.
As everyone knows by now – and as Sun alumnus Greg Weston first revealed in an online scoop – Prentice shocked the somnolent capital yesterday afternoon, when he stood at the end of Question Period to offer his immediate resignation.
Clearly choked up, Prentice told the stunned House that he had taken a job at CIBC – where, presumably, he will not be working as a teller. The faces of his soon-to-be-former caucus colleagues were mostly inscrutable.
Some Reformer types, perhaps, were inwardly happy that one of the few Progressive Conservatives in the Harper government were leaving. Others, however, looked worried.
They should be.
For starters, the former Environment minister gave the Harper government a honest-to-goodness centrist, one whose instincts are much more attuned to his Ontario birthplace. Just last week, for example, Prentice surprised many with his decision to veto a gold mine at Fish Lake in B.C.’s interior.
Now liberated from the restrictions that cabinet places on every politicians’ ambition, Jim Prentice is free to do, and say, pretty much whatever he wants. And the question on every federal politico’s mind, last night, was whether Prentice wants the top job – Stephen Harper’s.
It’s not an idle question. As a formerly active federal Liberal, I can tell you that Prentice has always been the Conservative who made Grits nervous.
In three successive elections, Harper has shown he is singularly incapable of capturing his a Parliamentary majority. Women, younger voters, and not a few Central Canadians just can’t bring themselves to trust the moody, angry Conservative leader.
Prentice, however, has the style and sensibility that could easily attract a lot of soft Liberal vote. He’s clearly much more moderate than Harper – and he doesn’t attract speculation that he harbours a nasty hidden agenda.
For example, I can reveal that Jim Prentice is probably the only member of the Harper regime who was respected enough, and knowledgeable enough, to be hired by the previous Liberal government. Prentice’s skills as a negotiator attracted the attention of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, whose government retained him to work on aboriginal files in the 1990s.
The question, then, is whether Prentice plans to use his new job as a launching pad for a run at the Conservative leadership – when Harper takes his foot-stomp in the snow, that is.
Running for a party’s leadership from the outside cabinet is pretty much the only way to win. The aforementioned Chretien did it in 1990, as did John Turner in 1984 and Paul Martin in 2003. Harper himself ran as an outsider in 2002, for the Canadian Alliance leadership. (Kim Campbell ran while still a minister, of course, but we all know how that turned out.)
What will Jim Prentice do? Only he knows for sure.
But one thing is clear: he’s the candidate who makes ambitious people nervous.
On both sides of the House.