Veteran Canadian politician Jim Prentice was among the four victims of a plane crash near Kelowna, B.C. late Thursday, Global News has confirmed.
The former premier of Alberta was reportedly on his way to Calgary following a personal trip when the plane disappeared from radar shortly after 10 p.m.. There were a total of four bodies recovered at the scene.
Prentice’s sudden death, confirmed by multiple sources, is prompting shock and an outpouring of grief in Canadian political circles. It comes less than seven months after another former federal cabinet minister, Jean Lapierre, died in a similar accident in eastern Quebec.
In a statement released late Friday afternoon, Prentice’s family said that “words cannot begin to express our profound shock and heartbreak” following his death.
From coal to Conservative
Prentice, who leaves behind his wife Karen and three daughters, was born in 1956 in South Porcupine, Northern Ontario.
Both his father and his uncle played professional hockey in the NHL, but his father Eric’s main job was as a miner. Prentice himself played junior hockey (his career was ended by a knee injury) and worked in a coal mine for several years to put himself through school.
He told the Canadian Press in a 2014 interview that his work in the mines shaped the man he became.
“I always said I got my education there,” said Prentice, who eventually earned a law degree at Dalhousie University.
“I learned teamwork, I learned respect for other people. I learned the fact that the smartest guy in the room is often not the guy you think is the smartest guy.”
Prentice began his involvement in political life four decades ago, joining what was then the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 1976. He remained largely behind the scenes in the early years, but would never stray from the Tory fold.
WATCH: Reaction to the death of Jim Prentice
In the mid-1980s, he made his first run for public office as a provincial PC candidate, but lost the Calgary riding to the local NDP candidate.
Prentice then made the leap into federal politics, albeit still not as a candidate, serving as the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada’s chief financial officer and treasurer through the early 1990s, when the party was in power in Ottawa under Brian Mulroney.
It would be more than a decade later before he was finally elected to the House of Commons — but it was not for lack of effort.
House of Commons
Prentice’s first run at a federal seat in a 2002 by-election was derailed after Stephen Harper announced his candidacy for the Canadian Alliance in the same riding. Prentice withdrew to avoid splitting the vote, allowing Harper to win the race and become the MP for Calgary Southwest.
Prentice’s own debut in the house of Commons would not come until 2004, when he handily claimed the riding of Calgary Centre-North under the banner of the newly formed Conservative Party of Canada.
As a member of the official Opposition, Prentice quickly rose through the Harper Conservative ranks, becoming the critic for Indian and Northern Affairs and taking the Liberal government to task for various decisions linked to First Nations policy and spending. He was widely seen as a potential Harper successor, and his politics tended to veer toward the centre.
He often cited a 2005 vote on same-sex marriage as a defining moment of his career. Prentice voted against party lines, supporting the right to marry for the LGBT community. The decision prompted backlash in his constituency and beyond, but he held his ground.
After the Conservatives formed government under Harper in 2006, Prentice took on a series of high-profile ministerial files, starting with Indian and Northern Affairs and then moving to Industry and Environment.
He then made a surprise exit from politics in 2010, stating that he wanted to spend additional time with his family and start a new job with CIBC.
But four years later, Prentice was back.
Premier of Alberta
The former cabinet minister returned to his provincial political roots in 2014, announcing that he wanted to lead the Alberta Progressive Conservatives following the resignation of former premier Alison Redford. He won the leadership race with an overwhelming majority and was sworn in as premier in September 2014.
Prentice’s premiership got off to a strong start that fall as he managed to attract eight members of the Wildrose Party, who crossed the floor in what was deemed an unprecedented move in Canadian politics. But in the spring of 2015, he called an election a full year before it was required, and the honeymoon came to an abrupt end.
Albertans overwhelmingly rejected the PC party, which lost power for the first time in 44 years and dropped to third place with just 10 seats. Prentice promptly resigned, and in early 2016, began a new chapter of his life back in the private sector.
Last February, the former premier joined the Washington-based Canada Institute at the Wilson Center as a visiting fellow. At the time, the center said Prentice would be devoting his time largely to a book on energy and environmental issues, including climate change and pipelines.
The book was set to be published this year.
WATCH: Former deputy premier of Alberta Thomas Lukaszuk speaks about Jim Prentice.
Early Friday afternoon, the Wilson Center released a statement, calling Prentice “a true friend” of the organization.
“He was a mentor to our young people, a guiding hand in our work, and a friend to us all. Even having contributed so much in the service of others, he had much left to offer. His loss is immense for the entire Wilson Center family. “
The National Arts Centre in Ottawa also issued a statement of condolence to Prentice’s family, saying he was “a devoted supporter of the arts across Canada.”
With files from the Canadian Press.