Jim Prentice’s green record remembered for expanding parks, stopping mine project

Despite sitting in the Harper government that was often criticized for its environmental record, Jim Prentice is being remembered for expanding Canada’s parkland and stopping a mining development that would have destroyed a pristine wilderness area.

The former Alberta premier and federal cabinet minister was among four people killed in a small-plane crash in B.C. on Thursday night.

During Prentice’s two years as environment minister he presided over the largest expansion of Canada’s national park system since it was founded in 1911.

“Prentice was responsible for the most significant expansion in the history of our parks system,” said Alan Latourelle, former CEO of Parks Canada. “This is the best minister I’ve ever worked for. He was passionate about our country, our nature, but also our stories of Canada.”

During Prentice’s time as the minister responsible for Parks Canada he recorded a number of achievements for Canada’s national park system:

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May remembers Prentice as someone who loved the wilderness, whose family loved the wilderness, and who wanted to put that love to work.

“He managed to find the space that was open to him, and it was very limited space, to do what he felt was right and to make a mark in a portfolio in a way that was positive for the future,” said May.  

A lot of what Prentice achieved in his role as environment minister, said May, was driven by looking at what his own family expected of him, and wanted him to be able to do, which she says “took political courage.”

“Jim Prentice took what he was handed as minister of the environment and decided to do the very best he was able to do given the limitations of the quite ideologically anti-environment prime minister for whom he served.”

‘He stood up for what was right even when he knew it would probably get him ousted from the government.’
– Joe Alphonse chief of Tsilhqot’in First Nation

But perhaps his greatest achievement for the environment, said May, was his decision in 2010 to reject a proposal by Taseko Mines Ltd. to build the Prosperity Mine in the Williams Lake area of British Columbia.

The gold and copper mine was touted as an $800-million project that would create 700 jobs in a region hard hit by the pine beetle epidemic and the economic downturn in the forest industry.

“The assessment of what it would mean was devastating for aquatic life, for First Nations rights, for the environment of the area, and it was important to back that up,” May said. “Saying no to Fish Lake was an act of real political courage.”

Several First Nations fought hard to stop the Prosperity Mine. They argued it would have destroyed Fish Lake and the surrounding area, running roughshod over important Indigenous heritage sites.

‘He was one of the good ones’

Prentice’s action to kill the mine before it started has left him with the legacy of a highly respected figure in the region.

“This would have been one of the largest copper and gold mines in Canada,” said Joe Alphonse, chief of Tsilhqot’in First Nation, who, along with others, fought the proposal for years. “He went against the grain.”

“He stood up for what was right even when he knew it would probably get him ousted from the government,” Alphonse said. “He did the right thing. There is not a lot of people who would do that and he was one of them. And for that we Chilcotin are ever grateful. He was one of the good ones.”

Chief Roger William of the XeniGwet’in First Nation, who also battled long and hard to stop the Prosperity Mine, said Prentice had the courage to stand against a government that was “pro industry” and make the right decision.

“He not only cared for the environment, but he was a people person, he listened to all the voices, he looked at the reports and he made the right decision,” William said. “I feel that he cared about the people, how they felt, what were the impacts.”

Prentice announced his decision to kill the mine on Nov. 2, 2010.  Two days later he resigned as minister and announced his intention to step down as an MP to take a job as vice-chair and senior executive vice-president of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

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