As I flew back into Alberta airspace the day before yesterday, it seemed as if tout le monde political Alberta was bidding the fondest of farewells to departing Premier pro tempore Dave Hancock, who announced on Friday he would not only be quitting as first minister today, but stepping down as the MLA for Edmonton-Whitemud as well.
This clears the decks for Jim Prentice, who by the time many of you read this will have been sworn in as premier of Alberta, albeit one not yet a member of the Legislature.
It makes way for Prentice to step into the top job, of course, plus it opens up a riding in which one of the new premier’s promised star candidates can highlight the government's potential for the real change as he tries to revivify the moribund Progressive Conservative dynasty.
After all, the unelected Prentice can only appoint unelected cabinet ministers for so long before Parliamentary pundits start to pontificate and the public grows restive and suspicious they're being had.
Well, Hancock was always accommodating to a fault when it came to the wishes of his party's leaders, although in this case it's likely what he wanted too. Everyone expects a swift judicial appointment to reward the outgoing premier pro tem before any other government has the opportunity to meddle with it.
I actually used up my cell phone data allocation for the latest billing period sitting in Victoria airport reading the tsunami of anodyne platitudes about how much we're going to miss Hancock from such unlikely sources as opposition politicians and union leaders, not to mention journalists who really ought to know better.
Indeed, the whole thing had the tone of a funeral oration -- but it is not that, luckily for Hancock, and there’s no superstition or convention against speaking ill of the recently resigned. So forgive me, then, for stating what ought to be obvious:
Hancock -- who really struck one as a person who understood what was the honourable, smart and decent thing to do in most circumstances -- typically stood by uncritically while the PC government to which he was so loyal behaved unconscionably.
He handled every portfolio he was given competently enough, although it's safe to say he'll not be remembered for a single outstanding policy.
Here was a man who never stepped up and exercised his undoubted authority as the party's respected elder statesman to urge either premier Ed Stelmach or premier Alison Redford to slow down when they were driving their governments, in their respective ways, into the proverbial guardrail.
He was one of the few people who could have said, "Enough is enough. This needs to stop now." Instead, he fulfilled the role of enabler in chief, especially to Redford.
Here was was an Edmonton MLA the government could roll out to explain and defend any bill or policy that hurt Edmonton. An unconstitutional attack on the government's own employees? There was nary a word of anything but justification from Hancock.
So while his job may have been to put out fires, and he was pretty good at it, we also need to remember -- ungracious as it may seem to do so at the moment he steps off the stage -- he was a key part of the team that lit them.
Tom Lukaszuk got to wear the Redford Government's massive "Bitumen Bubble" cuts to post-secondary education, which hurt Edmonton’s University of Alberta more than any other institution. Hancock, who knew better, stood by and said nothing.
At the end of his political career, the whole thing looks like not much more than a long exercise in damage control, publicly justifying the worst excesses of his party's leaders and cabinet. There was never a plan so bad, a policy so excessive, that Hancock wouldn't stand up and defend it.
Well, there's something to be said for being a good soldier, I guess, but when it comes to writing hagiographies, it doesn't really provide very promising material.
It should be no surprise Hancock is on the way out. Regardless of his wishes or his judicial ambitions, if Prentice's government really is going to offer a fresh start, a man like Hancock has no place in it.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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