Early Political Career
Prentice joined the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 1976, and has been active in Tory circles ever since. In the 1986 Alberta Provincial Election, Prentice ran for the Progressive Conservatives in Calgary Mountain View, being defeated by NDP candidate Bob Hawkesworth. He was the youngest Tory candidate in that election.
During the early 1990s, Prentice served as the governing federal PC Party's Chief Financial Officer and Treasurer (1990–93). Prentice first ran for Parliament as the nominated Progressive Conservative candidate in a spring 2002 by-election in the riding of Calgary Southwest that followed the retirement of Preston Manning as the riding's Member of Parliament (MP). When newly elected Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper replaced nominated CA candidate Ezra Levant in the by-election, Prentice withdrew from the race as a gesture of compromise.
He ran in the 2003 Progressive Conservative leadership election to support the "United Alternative" proposal to merge the PC party with the Canadian Alliance. He was seen by many as an alternative to the "status quo" candidate and front runner Peter MacKay. A basic platform of Prentice's campaign was that "no one has ever defeated the Liberals with a divided conservative family." Prentice entered the 2003 convention day with some momentum after delivering a passionate speech to the assembled delegates that encouraged Tories to be proud of their accomplishments despite recent setbacks and that recalled the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers who fought in the Battle of Passchendaele. He also unexpectedly received the support of fellow leadership challenger Craig Chandler, who withdrew early. Prentice ultimately emerged in second-place on the fourth ballot to the eventual winner MacKay. Some political pundits noted that while Prentice was ultimately defeated in the final ballot, he had the ability to draw support from both the social conservative and Red Tory candidates who contested the race, after they were officially knocked off in the first and second ballots respectively. Consistent with his positions during the leadership race, Prentice was a supporter of the merger endorsed by both the CA and PC parties in December 2003 that formed the new Conservative Party of Canada.
Prentice was the first declared candidate for the leadership of the new Conservative Party, announcing his run on December 7, 2003, the day after the new party was ratified by members of the PC Party. Prentice began his campaign in Calgary and toured parts of Ontario, specifically visiting Kingston, Ontario, the hometown of the first Canadian Conservative Leader Sir John A. Macdonald and also the city where one of his daughters attends Queen's University. However, he withdrew from the race on January 12, 2004, citing difficulty in raising new funds less than a year after his unsuccessful first leadership bid.
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