How will Jim Prentice build his legacy?

Newly installed premier has important choices to make

Alberta’s newest premier of the PC dynasty has taken over and made a forceful entry to his new tenure in provincial politics with some radical moves.

Jim Prentice started out by declaring his intention to sell the fleet of provincially owned government aircraft, overturned some of the decisions of the previous government and took some steps, in particular relating to health care issues, which may or may not be populist in intent, but certainly felt like music to some ears.

Mr. Prentice also took on two important cabinet portfolios under his own belt, that of relations with the First Nations and of intergovernmental relations, something that will benefit from his experience in the federal government as a minister.

Also, he prorogued the legislature, something his former political master, Stephen Harper has turned into habit over the last few years, although Mr. Prentice may have done it for different reasons, probably to clear the law-making agenda of the remnants of the Alison Redford period.

There are also other, more subtle things that are going through transformations; for instance, the provincial government’s website is being reconstructed with more emphasis being put on topics and information than on individuals and their biographies.

On the face of it, what seems to be happening looks good: We seem to have a much more engaged premier, going from community to community, listening to people, delving into the heart of some problems and gathering first hand information from the people of the province, taking at times quick decisions addressing issues.

It is clear by now to anybody who is following provincial politics that Jim Prentice has been put into his current position as the last-resort lifeline to keep the Progressive Conservatives from drowning in the sea of their of mistakes and mismanagement that have been the norm rather than the exception of the last few years.

And it is not unrealistic to expect that he could seriously prompt a revival in the PCs’ fortunes to score another election victory the next time we go to elections given that the Wildrose Alliance, the only realistic challenger to the governing party in the ballot box, could not get more creative than labeling the new premier’s moves “just more of the same,” which they are clearly not.

There is no doubt that Jim Prentice will work hard not only revitalize the PC party, but also to leave a legacy similar to those of, or even more respectable than, legendary premiers the party has produced from its ranks over the last four decades in power.

There is one question, though: How will he prefer to do it?

There is one easy way: Balance the books within a few years, keep relying on the oil and gas royalties (although this may be easier said than done given declining oil prices), just keep the farmer community happy and retire from politics when you are at the top.

Then there is the harder, but the better thing to do: Prepare a strategic plan and start its implementation to diversify the economy using the revenue from oil and gas royalties; employ and develop the research and development capacities of scientific/academic institutions for a globally leading role in reducing carbon emissions; focus on enhancing the potential of province’s agricultural production by supporting farmers and their operations; improve infrastructure; invest more in health and education, among other strategic steps.

How will the new premier proceed? Time will tell…