In an era that is hyper-partisan and anti-politician, the comportment and public service of Jim Prentice, the outgoing Environment Minister, merit special appreciation.
Before entering government, Mr. Prentice had a well-established reputation as a bridge-builder. As a nominated Progressive Conservative candidate in Calgary in 2002, he postponed his own ambitions for the sake of conservative unity, stepping aside so that Stephen Harper, the newly elected leader of the Canadian Alliance party, could run for the seat in a by-election. An expert in Indian law and a former land claims commissioner, Mr. Prentice was a key player in the Conservative Party's outreach to aboriginal peoples. And throughout his time in office, he eschewed the partisanship that many of his colleagues engaged in.
As a minister, Mr. Prentice's sense of the public good was most evident in his conservationism. He expanded parks and tackled toxins in consumer products. He reached out to the government's opponents, as with his September trip with David Suzuki to the Gwaii Haanas National Park Reserve in B.C. His last act as a minister was to preserve Fish Lake, a fragile ecosystem, by rejecting the Prosperity gold and copper mine initiative. Although carbon emissions kept growing under his watch, he did his best, within the constraints of government policy in both Canada and the U.S., by tackling vehicular emissions and collaborating with the U.S. on carbon capture and storage efforts.
Mr. Prentice's reputation for managerial competence (enhanced by the trust Mr. Harper put in him in government) should inspire other people of quality to seek high office. The permanent public service is responsible for much of the day-to-day functioning of government, but they still need good sense about policy and politics from their elected officials; by all accounts, Mr. Prentice provided this.
We may not have heard the last of Mr. Prentice in public life, but Canadian democracy is better for his contribution.