Prentice Portrait Imagined

Never mind the $13.4 million in severance to MLAs fired by the voters on May 5, are Alberta taxpayers seriously going to have to fork over another $15,000 or so to hang a bad portrait in brushstrokes in the Legislature?

Yeah, the sum seems picayune compared with some of the other expenditures we simply have to make to run a Canadian province, and it’s only come up because lately we’ve been going through premiers like some folks go through shoes, but there’s a principle that’s bigger than the cost of a lousy oil painting here.

Commissioning an enormous oil portrait of all of Alberta’s premiers must have seemed like a great idea at the time — which, presumably, was about the time Alexander Rutherford left office as Premier No. 1 in 1910.

Accordingly, paintings all the way through to unlucky No. 13, Ed Stelmach, now hang on the northeast wall of the third floor of the Legislature Rotunda in Edmonton — where space is rapidly running out.

Indeed, there’s room for only two more in the area now devoted to public hangings of this sort — and they will be of Progressive Conservative Premier Alison Redford and PC Premier (pro tempore) Dave Hancock, if we stick with the plan made last year by the now-departing government.

At the time the decision was made in the summer of 2014 by the then-thought-to-be-eternal PC dynasty that even a 175-day premier like Hancock deserved a portrait in oil, acrylic or whatever, it was assumed that his successor, Jim Prentice, would be with us for a very, very long time.

That would have given the government plenty of leisure to figure out what to do to make room for Prentice’s vast oil portrait when the time eventually came …

Well, who knew? Prentice only lasted 241 days! So now, presumably, he’s entitled to go out and find an artist to his liking or acquaintance and commission another huge painting, at our expense, for which there is no room.

As has been reported in this space and elsewhere before, the portraits nowadays typically cost between $12,000 and $15,000. The artists work from photographs, which makes the whole business sort of like paint-by-numbers if you ask me — which, of course, nobody did.

Back when we were discussing a portrait for Hancock, I had this to say: “I’ve got a modest proposal that will continue to support the arts in Alberta, but not unduly outrage citizens:

“Let’s continue to commission painted portraits of Alberta premiers who manage to remain in office for three or more years.

“Premiers like Redford, who don’t quite pass that threshold, should get a nice photographic portrait by an Alberta studio artist.

“And premiers like Hancock, who are in office for less than six months, can take a selfie with their cell phone.”

This would put Prentice into the frame, as it were, for a nice photo studio portrait.

It was also my thought at the time that the portraitists should be selected from among the ranks of Alberta artists by a jury of qualified judges, although the premier to be painted would get to make the final selection.

Since we’re now out of room, though, it’s probably time to move the oils and acrylics to a basement storage area or a back room at the new Alberta Museum and just hang photos, like they do in B.C., where a modest photographic gallery in a hallway of the Legislature Building has been considered quite sufficient, thank you very much, to honour that province’s 35 premiers. (W.A.C. Bennett, who for a spell insisted on being called prime minister, is nevertheless included in that number.)

I suppose the graceful way to start this tradition would be for Premier Designate Rachel Notley to initiate it when she retires, whenever that may be.

But nuts to that! At the risk of sounding like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, if Prentice wants an oil painting, he should pay for it himself and hang it in his own darn rotunda.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog,

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...