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Portrait unveiling for former Alberta premier provides warm non-partisan moment

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The late Jim Prentice's official portrait as it was unveiled in the Alberta Legislature (Photo: Chris Schwartz, Government of Alberta).

A dignified official portrait of Jim Prentice, the last Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta, was unveiled in the Alberta Legislature on Monday.

It's a very nice piece of official portraiture that does justice to the beautiful third-floor hallway of the legislature's rotunda, where portraits of the province's former premiers hang. Its unveiling was accompanied by warm words untainted by the usual pre-election partisanship.

Prentice, who was premier from September 2014 until the general election in May 2015, died in an airplane crash in October 2016. His widow, Karen Prentice, spoke at the unveiling, which was also attended by many members of the family.

It almost seems as if the occasion of hanging former premiers' official portraits in the legislature has become under the NDP government an opportunity for saying the kind words about the PC leaders who recently preceded them that many in the current generation of conservatives are disinclined to utter.

It was really too bad Prentice couldn't be there to hear what was said at the unveiling. It was too bad that Dave Hancock, the PC premier who bridged the gap between Alison Redford's troubled premiership and that of Prentice, was not at his portrait unveiling as well. Both events were presided over by an NDP Speaker, but the words spoken were no less fond for that.

Speaker Bob Wanner described Prentice as "a man of integrity guided by a good balance of passion and pragmatism" and "a selfless leader who worked tirelessly to make life better for the people of Alberta" -- both as an MLA and first minister and as an MP and federal minister before that.

Wanner reminded his listeners that Prentice was "a strong advocate for Indigenous rights and was steadfast in his commitment to resolving many of the issues affecting the community."

Premier Rachel Notley praised Prentice for his dedication to reconciliation with Canada's Indigenous peoples and gave him credit for creating the foundation of last fall's historic settlement with the Lubicon Cree.

And, to be fair, Opposition Leader Jason Kenney -- who was once Prentice's cabinet colleague in Ottawa -- praised him, too, for his "penetrating intelligence, dignity and collegiality."

The rotunda's really grown a little crowded with the portraits of the 16 Alberta premiers who have left office, and they're going to need a new home soon if the recent rate of turnover continues. And that doesn't count the portraits of the province's former Speakers, which occupy another set of walls nearby.

But it must be said, Prentice's portrait -- by British-born B.C. artist David Goatley -- is a more worthy contribution to the collection than several of the recent additions. It's been argued here that if Albertans are going to pay for them, former premiers ought not necessarily be allowed to pick their own artists, although in this case, Prentice seems to have done well even if he reached outside Alberta's borders.

Nobody seems to have said how much the portrait cost the province, but recent premiers' portraits of rather less inspiring quality were reported to have cost between $12,000 and $14,000.

Goatley has also painted such luminaries as former prime minister Kim Campbell, former B.C. lieutenant governor and Liberal cabinet minister Iona Campagnolo, Prince Andrew, and the Maharaja of Jaipur. In addition, he has painted portraits of many members of Canada's Indigenous communities, which may be why Prentice chose the artist for this portrait, although the work began after the former premier's death.

This post also apears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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