One of the most significant moments of Jim Prentice’s political career happened before he became a respected cabinet minister or Alberta’s 16th premier.
As Canadians of all political stripes remember Prentice, who died tragically in a B.C. plane crash Thursday, some are noting the courageous stand he took in 2005 to support same-sex marriage in Canada.
Jim Prentice is shown in the House of Commons on Oct. 23, 2006. (Photo: Fred Chartrand/CP)
Prentice was one of three opposition Conservative MPs to vote in favour of a Liberal bill endorsing marriage equality. Former Tory MPs Gerald Keddy and James Moore also backed the bill.
Moore told CBC News on Friday he always respected Prentice for that difficult decision.
Shortly after he became Alberta’s premier in 2014, Prentice told The Canadian Press that vote was as a “defining moment.” The pressure to vote against same-sex marriage, he said at the time, was “incredible.”
And the anger he faced in his Calgary riding was significant.
There were angry letters to the editor. Staff in his riding office quit. People told him his political career was finished. One angry Calgarian passed him in a pickup truck, pulled over and threatened clean his clock on the spot.
They set fire to his veranda.
In the church, where he was married and his children were baptized, Prentice and his wife Karen arrived to find that day’s sermon was a warning about him.
In a speech to the House of Commons, months before the vote, Prentice spoke of the need to balance religious freedom with equality rights.
“I have been married to the same woman for 21 years, reflecting my own personal definition of a marriage,” he said. “It is not however the personal definition of many of our fellow citizens who are homosexual and who have sought the protection of the charter to obtain civil marriage licences from the government. In a constitutional democracy, such as Canada, what should we do about such a conflict?
“This begs the fundamental question: what right do we have, as a society, to deny homosexual Canadians something the rest of us are entitled to, namely a civil marriage licence?”
"Recognition of the equality rights of one group does not violate the rights of another."
Same-sex marriage, Prentice argued, would not in any way threaten the rights of heterosexual couples.
“Recognition of the equality rights of one group does not violate the rights of another,” he said.
More than a decade later, most Conservatives seem to have caught up to Prentice’s position.
In May, delegates at the party’s policy convention voted overwhelmingly — 1,036-462 — to ditch the Conservatives’ opposition to same-sex marriage.
With files from The Canadian Press