Former Alberta premier Jim Prentice dead in plane crash

Sources say the twin-engine business jet went down on Thursday night, not far from Kelowna, B.C.

Alberta Premier Jim Prentice gives an address in Edmonton, Alberta on December 9, 2014. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

(Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Jim Prentice, the man who scaled tremendous heights in both national and Alberta politics, has been killed in a plane crash 17 months after the NDP’s surprise provincial election triumph hastened his return to life in the private sector life, according to multiple sources.

The 60-year-old Calgarian lawyer served as Stephen Harper’s minister of industry, Indian affairs and environment, and was one of the former prime minister’s most trusted lieutenants from the day Harper took office in 2006.

Expected by some observers to be Harper’s successor, he instead quit politics in 2010 to become senior executive vice-president for the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. He was pulled back into politics in 2014, amid a leadership crisis among Alberta Progressive Conservatives.

Prentice won the leadership easily to become Alberta’s 16th premier, and expanded his power base by luring most of the opposition Wildrose party to the Tory benches, including then-leader Danielle Smith. But the following May, he led his party to a crushing defeat and third-party status in the 2015 provincial election, ending the Tories’ four-decade dynasty. He had remained largely out of the public spotlight after that political humiliation, choosing to vacate his Calgary seat after winning it on election night.

Prentice was playing golf Thursday in British Columbia’s Okanagan region, according to one source close to him. The Cessna Citation twin-engine business jet had left Kelowna Airport on Thursday night for Springbank Airport, a small airport west of Calgary popular with private aircraft.

Transportation Safety Board of Canada spokesman Bill Yearwood says the Cessna with four people on board went down at about 10:30 p.m. Thursday after taking off from the airport in Kelowna. Everyone onboard was found dead.

Mounties say the Surrey Air Traffic Control Centre lost contact with the aircraft soon after it departed Kelowna.

The wreckage was found Thursday night in a heavily wooded area northeast of Winfield, about 18 km north of Kelowna.

Nearly a year ago, a close political protégé of Prentice’s died in a car crash on Alberta Highway 2 between Edmonton and Calgary. Manmeet Bhullar, a former Tory cabinet minister and rising political star whom Prentice had mentored since his youth, died at age 35.

We’ll report more as this story develops.

With files from The Canadian Press