Alberta public affairs group leader Catherine Keill shares her personal experience working with newly elected PCAA Leader Jim Prentice, offering her perspective on what his recent win means for the future of Alberta’s politics.
The room crackled with anticipation last Saturday, September 6 as the gathered crowd of more than 350 PC Association of Alberta members awaited the announcement of the new leader.
Then the crowd was electrified when it was finally announced that PC Party members had decisively handed the reins to Jim Prentice. Politics in Alberta is about to change.
I had the distinct honour of working for Jim Prentice during his time in federal politics, supporting his role as regional political minister in Alberta. Our team advised him, and other cabinet ministers, on regional needs and issues, as well as the impacts and outcomes of federal policy on the region. It was a privilege experience to work for Jim in the early days of that new government and during the following two years.
Based on my experience, I am encouraged by his resounding leadership victory and what it means for Alberta. I say this because of the man I believe Jim is.
Jim Prentice is the same man on and off the camera. His public presence during the leadership campaign was genuine.
For those seeking insight into Jim’s personality and how that might affect the government and party he is about to lead, I would like to share my personal perspective.
As a boss, Jim is fair, respectful and appreciative. He sets a high bar for his team’s performance. He expects his team to be thoughtful, ethical and hard-working. He takes his position of public servant seriously.
Jim’s team always knew what his expectations were and we worked hard to meet them. His sense of responsibility cascaded down to each of us. Fear and intimidation were never used as motivators in our office. However, fear of disappointing him always motivated me. Jim is a great person to work for and with. He modelled great team leadership daily.
As a decision-maker, Jim is open to listening to perspectives, is good at seeking and considering advice, and is decisive when action is needed. He also does not shrink away from asking tough questions and tackling challenging issues.
As a person, I have always known Jim to be approachable, pragmatic and supportive. He is smart. And he likes to smile and have fun with friends and family. In fact, though I left Jim’s office after his regional minister role changed in 2008, Jim always included me in his regular team holiday celebration dinners in the years that followed. Even after Jim left his federal role, he continued to pull his old team together year after year for fun holiday dinners with good food and conversation.
I have had opportunity to see Jim as a husband, a father and a friend. He is loving, loyal, gracious and clearly very proud of his family. His wife Karen is one of his biggest cheerleaders and is his intellectual match. She is herself a sensible and kind person, and warm to strangers and friends.
Together, I foresee Jim and Karen as formidable community building partners in his premiership, which I believe will be a great asset for Albertans.
As Jim enters his new position as the 16th premier of Alberta, I expect he will bring his caucus together as a consensus and team builder – he will lead and listen.
I also expect that Jim’s new team at the legislature will function much as we did when he was in federal office on Parliament Hill. That is, work hard together, support the whole caucus team, be highly effective and respect taxpayer dollars.
I foresee a marked shift in the recent tone within the Legislature—one now of excitement and energy.
Coming from the top positions around Prime Minister Harper’s cabinet table, Jim will have high expectations for his MLA team and their staff members. But he will set those expectations with clarity and a sense of camaraderie, encouraging the team to achieve its mandate together, not in silos.
While the party has governed for a record 43 years, recently hitting the milestone as the longest governing party in Canadian history, I don’t think Jim takes anything for granted. Given his time in the federal arena with experience in consecutive minority government cabinet positions, he is used to working hard to build and maintain support.
With a general election on the horizon at the halfway point in the government mandate, he will be looking to government MLAs to demonstrate political acumen as they aim for the 2016 election and the impending challenge being posed by the opposition.
Jim knows how to adeptly handle strong political opponents from across the floor. In his federal cabinet positions he faced off with both Liberal and NDP opponents and the opposition parties respected him for his intelligence and integrity. This experience and skill has him well equipped to take on the increasingly effective Wildrose opposition.
The Wildrose has evolved over the last few years and has refined its approach to challenging the government. Its ability to impact government policy has increased and, according to recent polling, it remains an appealing option for approximately 30 per cent of decided Albertans. For Jim this means an uphill battle to redefine the PC Party in the minds of Albertans.
As Jim is sworn in to office in the coming days and his cabinet complement emerges, Albertans can anticipate the next session being a fiery one where all political parties look to reposition themselves with an eye on the 2016 election prize. Likely, the Wildrose will come out swinging with the goal of chipping away at the new Premier’s vision and hard-earned reputation. Meanwhile, the Jim Prentice team will try to focus on plotting a strategic course that will bring Albertans back to trusting a PC government.
It will be interesting to watch how the next few months play out, and to see if Jim’s electrifying reset of the party will reset Tory fortunes.

Authored by: Catherine Keill