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OK, Jim Prentice really loves Alberta … but can Alberta love Jim Prentice?

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Jim Prentice

Banker, lawyer and former federal cabinet minister Jim Prentice launched his leisurely jog to the leadership of the province's Progressive Conservative Party and the job of Alberta Premier No. 16 yesterday morning by telling anyone who happened to be listening that "I love this place and I think I have a duty to make it better."

"I'm running because I believe Alberta has before it right now an opportunity to achieve great things," Prentice also told the small crowd of party faithful and hopeful PC MLAs who showed up at the old Alberta Hotel in Edmonton, now the headquarters of CKUA Radio. "It's going to take discipline and it's going to take focus, but we will do this."

Details to follow, I guess.

Actually, Prentice has been launching his campaign every day for days now. The difference was that this was the official official launch. Apparently he officially launched it a second time later in the day in Calgary.

So I have a confession to make and a theory to propose about Prentice's seemingly inevitable coronation -- at the moment he’s the only candidate in the race who has actually completed his paperwork -- and the things that will follow.

The confession is that I got it wrong when I concluded Prentice would never run here in Alberta because that would end his chances of fulfilling his real ambition, to become prime minister of Canada.

Mea culpa. It will finish his chances of becoming PM, of course. But I guess he did the math and realized that, at 57, he never would get another chance to be a first minister otherwise anyway -- which suggests he knows more about the incumbent's plans than we do, which, under the circumstances, would make a lot of sense.

My theory is that Prentice may actually be what Albertans, the ones willing to sign a Tory card anyway, were looking for when they chose Ed Stelmach and were disappointed, and then chose Alison Redford and were really disappointed. But if so -- and here’s the theoretical part -- Tory hopes and Tory vanity notwithstanding, they're not likely to do the same thing a third time.

Now wouldn't that be ironic -- if Albertans finally got the kind of Tory leader they were pining for, and then voted his butt out of office for the sins of his predecessors? As noted, I've been wrong before. So we'll see about that part, I guess.

While we wait, we can think about Prentice's official introduction to Albertans yesterday. Watched on the small screen, it was pretty underwhelming. He said all the right things and he said them very nicely. He was wearing a beautifully tailored dark suit and a nice yellow tie. He had a great haircut and a persuasive manner that made me think a little bit of former PC prime minister Joe Clark, only not as goofy.

But somehow the whole thing added up to something less than the sum of its parts.

In addition to telling Albertans the reassuringly blue-collar story of how hard he worked in the mines as a student, how hard his mom worked at home and how hard his dad, once a pro hockey player, also worked -- all completely true, I have no doubt -- Prentice set out five general themes he plans to campaign on:

1)    He'll stick to conservative financial principles

2)    He'll restore public trust and put an end to entitlements

3)    He'll maximize the value of Alberta's resources

4)    He'll make the province an environmental leader

5)    He'll make darn sure we have the highest quality of life imaginable.

Oh, and he said he'd shrink the cabinet -- just like Redford and Stelmach before him. (Premier pro tem Dave Hancock has just left Redford's cabinet pretty much in place, which was probably part of the deal that made him premier for long enough to get into the history books.)

Well, good luck to Prentice with all of that!

Anyway, he was a little thin on the details of how he make these sometimes contradictory things happen, especially when, on some of them, he's not really going to have the enthusiastic co-operation of many members of his own caucus and party.

In fairness, this reticence is to be expected. For one thing, it's early in the campaign. For another, there's enough bad stuff going around nowadays about his party under its previous leader that he'll need to low-bridge pretty assiduously to avoid tough questions on the campaign trail. Better, maybe, just to sound upbeat and enthusiastic, and hope for a reprieve!

Between the lines, Prentice also tried to respond to the Wildrose Party's successful effort to paint him as a nice but weak guy who won't be able to stand up to the members of his own caucus.

He got stuck with this image while his brain trust dawdled around for weeks suggesting he might run, or he might not. Now that he is running, the opposition may have already fixed the way Albertans will see him. Then again, maybe no one but the chattering class is paying attention, in which case maybe the Tories guessed right.

Regardless, it was interesting to note that some of the same dubious actors who rushed to Alison Redford's side on the night she was chosen back in 2012 were back with Prentice yesterday.

It wouldn't be quite fair to say of Prentice's pleasant but uninspiring performance -- as Gertrude Stein said of her hometown Oakland, California -- that "there is no there there."

But it was nevertheless telling that media coverage chose to emphasize his professions of love for Alberta and lofty -- if largely meaningless -- promises.

So, yes, there is something there …

The question (seeing as we're quoting the late Ms. Stein today) is, Will it be enough, when it comes to the third PC leader and premier in a single year, to keep Alberta voters from concluding a rose is a rose is a rose?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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