POLITICS

Alberta Tory Leader Jim Prentice all business in his approach to government

04/07/2015 02:02 EDT | Updated 06/07/2015 05:59 EDT
EDMONTON - Jim Prentice has been called Alberta's first CEO premier — a label that, while broad, captures a philosophy that will be put to the test when voters head to the polls.

"We're under new management" has been his catchphrase since he took over as premier and leader of the Progressive Conservatives last September.

It's been an administration that is all business and about business since Prentice was sworn in as Progressive Conservative party leader and premier on Sept. 15.

He has jump-started the construction of more schools, hospitals, and highways, and travelled far and wide to beat the drum for more pipelines.

Last month, he presented a budget that hikes taxes and fees, racks up a $5-billion deficit and $30 billion in debt by 2020 to broaden the revenue stream and reduce the province's reliance on volatile oil prices.

Everyone must share the burden, Prentice has said, but has also promised that corporate taxes — already the lowest in Canada — and oil royalties won't be increased.

Democracy has been hard-pressed to keep up.

His first cabinet included two non-elected members in senior posts — former Saskatchewan cabinet minister Gordon Dirks in education and former Edmonton mayor Stephen Mandel in health. They later won byelections.

Earlier this year, critics accused Prentice and Finance Minister Robin Campbell of undermining the independence of a Tory-dominated all-party legislature committee by publicly ordering it to reverse a spending decision.

In the run-up to the election, Prentice appointed former Calgary police chief Rick Hanson as the Tory candidate in a city constituency, bypassing a nomination race.

While bills normally take days or weeks of debate to pass in the house, legislation under Prentice gets introduced and passed in a fraction of the time.

After only a few months in office most Opposition Wildrose members of the legislature, including former leader Danielle Smith, crossed the floor to work under his leadership.

Prentice has decades of experience in how the political game is played.

Born in South Porcupine, Ont., Prentice, now 58, grew up working "under the bins'' of Alberta's Crowsnest coal mine.

He toiled underground, amidst choking dust, heat, and deafening machinery as coal was dropped by trucks from above onto a conveyor belt for smashing.

His early goal was to play hockey.

His dad, Eric, was a miner and, at 17, the youngest player ever signed by the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Eric was a career minor leaguer, save for five games with Toronto in 1943.

Prentice inherited those strong shinny genes, but his promising junior career ended with a devastating knee-on-knee hit.

"I got creamed coming out from behind the net,'' he said. "That was it.''

From then on he focused on university, graduating with a law degree, and then pursued his three passions: business, law, and politics.

From age 20 he worked for the federal and Alberta Progressive Conservative parties, staying for the most part in the backrooms, where strategy was hashed out.

He worked to heal the fracture between the federal PCs and the Canadian Alliance.

In 2002 he stepped aside as the PC candidate in Calgary Southwest so that then-Alliance leader Stephen Harper could run unopposed to represent the centre-right.

In 2004, at age 47, he won a Calgary riding for the newly merged Conservative Party.

In 2006 Harper won a minority government and Prentice was in cabinet. Over the following six-plus years he was given high marks for his work in diverse portfolios — Indian and Northern Affairs, Industry, and Environment.

He left politics abruptly in 2010 to become an executive with CIBC.

Last year, he returned to public life, saying the Tories under former premier Alison Redford had lost their way. Alberta, he said deserved better.

On the election trail, he's now asking Albertans to give him a mandate to make that happen.