The problem with Jim Prentice’s departure from politics for a job at CIBC, announced this week, isn’t just that he leaves big shoes – it’s that he leaves four pairs of them. Without Mr. Prentice, Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s party needs a new environment minister, a new candidate in Mr. Prentice’s Calgary Centre-North, a new chairman of cabinet’s all-important operations committee, and a new regional minister (or cabinet point person) for Southern Alberta, the Tory heartland. Here's a look at some possible candidates to take over his biggest role, as environment minister, and in his riding.
1) Ted Menzies
The parliamentary secretary to the Finance Minister, Mr. Menzies is one of the most affable guys on the Hill and has been highly effective in his position. He cut his teeth in the agriculture business before he was elected in 2004. Representing a Southern Alberta rural riding, he might also be able to inherit Mr. Prentice’s position as regional minister. He and his wife are lifelong farmers.
2) Diane Ablonczy
The skilled cabinet member from Alberta is Minister of State for Seniors, a much lower-profile post than Environment. Does the woman who introduced Laureen Harper to her husband get a promotion? Mr. Harper needs more women in senior cabinet roles. Ms. Ablonczy is a veteran, having served as an MP for 16 years, and like Mr. Prentice is an attorney by trade. A Calgarian, she may also take over as regional minister.
3) James Rajotte
Chairman of the all-party Commons finance committee who once also served as chairman of the industry committee. Capable and smart, Mr. Rajotte has been regularly overlooked for cabinet in a party awash with Albertans. Many in Ottawa are hoping he gets the nod this time, saying it would be well deserved. He was first elected in 2000.
4) Maxime Bernier
Speculation doesn’t end with the Albertans. There is chatter in Ottawa about the return of the maverick Quebec MP to cabinet since he was turfed from his post in Foreign Affairs. He’s popular in Quebec, where the Tories are desperate for a higher profile. But he refuses to adhere to the party line on transfers to the provinces and federal funding for a hockey rink in Quebec City.
Conservative candidate in Calgary Centre-North
1) Ric McIver
A three-term Calgary alderman and darling of Calgary conservatives, he finished second in last month’s mayor’s race. A strong fiscal conservative, Mr. McIver is a natural choice for the party and had been widely expected to seek a provincial or federal seat. “I am looking into it,” he said on Friday. However, he has no federal experience and may struggle to stand out in a party already filled with white, male Albertans.
2) Barb Higgins
If one mayoral runner-up could run, why not two? Ms. Higgins is a former CTV anchor who finished third in the mayor’s race. Her former campaign manager said Ms. Higgins is “taking a look” at seeking the Conservative nomination after “catching the political bug.” Although many Alberta conservatives fear she’s too liberal, the party doesn’t have an abundance of high-profile women.
3) Michelle Rempel
Viewed as a safe bet by many, Ms. Rempel is the head of the Conservatives’ Southern Alberta riding associations group. In the event of another potential Higgins-McIver battle, the young Ms. Rempel has a strong backroom following. “The advantage of Michelle is she's seen as sort of neutral to all factions,” one Alberta Tory said. Ms. Rempel is a research director at the University of Calgary. Although she’s a Calgarian, Ms. Rempel – like Mr. McIver and Ms. Higgins – doesn’t live in the riding.
4) Bob Hawkesworth
In 2008, Mr. Prentice won 53 per cent of the vote – hardly a home run for such a high-profile minister. Who finished second? A virtual tie between the New Democrats and Green Party. Mr. Hawkesworth is a veteran NDP politician in Calgary who also lost a recent bid for mayor. He’d be among potential candidates seeking to pluck the riding from the Conservatives. Coincidentally, when Mr. Prentice first ran for office in 1986, it was Mr. Hawkesworth who defeated him.