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Portrait unveiling stands in for the fond official farewell former premier Dave Hancock never had from his PCs

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Dave Hancock Portrait

The unveiling of Dave Hancock's portrait in the Legislature yesterday may have been presided over by a New Democrat Speaker and featured a speech by an NDP premier, but it had the warm family quality one might have been expected from the official farewell the former premier never really got from his own Progressive Conservative Party.

Hancock was unexpectedly elevated the premiership by his caucus colleagues at the start of the summer of the Tories' discontent -- the date when he was sworn in was March 23, 2014, immediately after the PC caucus had for all intents and purposes fired his predecessor Alison Redford.

Hancock's job was to keep the Tory home fires burning until the anointed one, Jim Prentice, could be elected leader by PC members and installed as premier, saving the party and preserving the dynasty that had ruled Alberta since 1971 for another generation.

That plan didn't work out quite as intended, but certainly not because of Hancock's efforts during what he described yesterday as "the best summer job I ever had." Well liked in the cloistered world of the Legislature as a thoughtful consensus-builder and policy wonk, the former PC House Leader and cabinet minister was respected by allies and foes alike.

The thing was, though, when by-then-premier Prentice appointed a new cabinet in the fall of 2014, he wanted to put the embarrassments of the Redford Era quickly behind him. Accordingly, a high-profile figure like Hancock was out, with barely a word of thanks.

Well, the public side of politics can be a tough business. Hancock didn't publicly complain, but he must have felt the sting.

It was telling that many of the ministers Prentice canned when he named his new cabinet in mid-September 2014 were there yesterday for the unveiling of Hancock's portrait by Edmonton artist Tom Menczel. I spotted Doug Horner, Fred Horne, Richard Starke, Dave Quest and Dave Rodney for sure, and I may well have missed others. There was a big crowd -- a couple of hundred at least, including many family friends, lots of government officials and plenty of NDP MLAs as well.

Bob Wanner, Speaker of the Legislature, acted as the emcee. Notley delivered warm remarks, praising Hancock's consensus-building skills, his willingness to listen and his determination.

"He was the embodiment of public service in this House," she said. "He worked long, long hours…" She paused, adding, to the chuckles of insiders, "and not all of them were taken up with his speeches in the Legislature!”

Before Hancock made his emotional remarks, the audience heard from MLAs Nathan Cooper, on behalf of the poorly represented Wildrose Party (Brian Jean was missing in action), Ric McIver of the PCs, and Greg Clark of the Alberta Party, as well as the artist, Menczel, who came to Canada as a child refugee from Hungary in 1957.

Born in Fort Resolution, N.W.T., Hancock was a lawyer by profession who served five terms in the Alberta Legislature. Over his 17-year legislative career, he held eight government portfolios -- among them such important areas as health, human services, education and justice.

He observed: "I had the privilege of working outside and inside the Legislature with premiers Lougheed, Getty, Klein, Stelmach and Redford, and I learned from all of them and I have the highest regard for each of them. Now I get to join them."

Hancock's portrait, the proximate cause of yesterday's congenial occasion, shows him during his pink-spectacle phase. I will leave the expert commentary about the painting to professional art critics.

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

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