Sunday, September 11, 2011

PC Leadership Candidate Profile - Doug Horner


Any story about Doug Horner's rise in politics has to start with the Horner legacy.

Doug's grandfather, Ralph, was a Senator for Saskatchewan.  At the time of Doug's birth, his father was the sitting Member of Parliament for Jasper-Edson. Three of his uncles also served as MPs. After 9 years in Ottawa, Horner's father stepped down to try his hand at provincial politics, and served as an MLA for 12 years, first as a member of the 6-strong Official Opposition PC Caucus under young firebrand Peter Lougheed, and later holding cabinet posts as Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Economic Development and Deputy Premier.

So, yeah... Doug's got some family connections.

All that said, though, Horner seemingly resisted the siren call of political service, opting to strike out on his own as a young man. After following the money to jobs in the oilpatch and at a lumber mill, Horner attended SAIT in Calgary (a stint during which he developed an unfortunate attachment to the Calgary Stampeders), married at age 19 (!) and worked in the financial sector as a banker, as well as in agriculture, where he did sales and marketing for ConAgra in Nebraska for several years. After returning to Alberta, Horner (at age 29) enlisted and served as a Canadian Forces Reservist, fulfilling a lifelong dream. In 2001, at the urging of his MLA (Ken Kowalski) he got into the family business, winning election to the Legislative Assembly, where he has served ever since. After 3 years on the back benches, Doug got the call from Ralph Klein to sit in Cabinet as Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, and later had a very successful stint as Minister of Advanced Education and Technology under Ed Stelmach - also serving as the most recent Deputy Premier.

Fighting throughout the campaign to get noticed among the flashier and more controversial candidates, Horner has also had to work hard to avoid being stuck with the label "Stelmach 2.0", as many Stemach loyalists have jumped on board the Horner Campaign. Indeed, while Doug spends a great deal of time talking about the things that will change if he wins the leadership, it's worth noting that the cabinet mainstay and former number-2 man on the totem pole has 15 endorsements from sitting MLA's for whom the "old way of doing things" worked out just fine -among them Speaker Ken Kowalski, who replaced Doug's father upon his retirement under Lougheed and will celebrate his 32nd year in the Legislature this November - so, the "Change" motivation is a bit harder to believe in some cases. It's also reportedly a source of frustration that Horner has been painted as a "rural candidate", a characterization reinforced by the fact that of his 15 MLA endorsements, only one - Lindsay Blackett - comes from a constituency within one of Alberta's 2 big cities.


Horner has released a LOT of policy, making his candidacy a field-day for wonks such as myself. Among the more interesting (to me) policies:

  • Accelerate the development of new technologies that reduce environmental impacts, economic costs and extraction deficiencies;
  • Embrace the social licence given to Alberta to develop our natural resources wisely by protecting the environment and encouraging economic diversification;
  • Develop separate investment and trade strategies for China, India, Mexico, Middle East, and South America;
  • Establish a stable regulatory environment and a planned approach to growth for a vibrant energy sector in Alberta;
  • Give education professionals the tools and resources they need to achieve success for our students. Confront our high school dropout rate with systems and programs that reduce the rate by 10% per year over five years;
  • Reduce the barriers to education by using technology tools and resources that are both scalable and distributable. Let’s become the first jurisdiction to create the virtual text book library for all students K-12;
  • Working with all stakeholders in the system to remove the requirement for doctors to deliver all services face to face in order to bill. Access is the number one issue facing Albertans today and we must open the points of access to health professionals best suited to effectively treat the patient.
  • Collaborating with stakeholders to minimize unnecessary residency requirements for foreign-trained doctors. Establish equivalency programmes with non-Albertan medical schools to recognize training conducted outside our province and country.
  • Enabling health care professionals to practice to the full scope of their training and keep pace with innovations already practiced by several healthcare disciplines. Enable direct payment from the publicly funded system for their services.
  • Establishing meaningful benchmarks for wait list times and offer Albertans options to seek medical care from other providers with the province funding a majority of those costs;
  • Explore increasing coverage and options for Alberta Blue Cross.
  • Introduce engagement opportunities for Senior Citizens to mentor, and participate with youth in the community, including school participation, business mentoring, and other ideas to tap the enormous wealth of knowledge and experience that our elders have;
  • Establish a care-giver tax credit for family members who care for senior citizens who live in their home or nearby;
  • Negotiate an Alberta-specific immigration policy with the federal government in the same manner as Quebec's immigration model, tailored to Alberta’s needs, and is flexible and responsive;
  • Develop foreign academic equivalency programs that allow new graduates in targeted countries to be qualified for work in Alberta upon graduation as opposed to having to be re-qualified once landed in Alberta;
  • Augment temporary foreign worker programs to allow for job transferability and qualification for full citizenship with the timely immigration of family members.
  • Create an Associate Ministry whose focus is on the wellness of all Albertans in sport, fitness and nutrition. Put emphasis on our children, youth, adult and senior-citizen involvement in community-based activity programs;
  • Double the funding for the Alberta Foundation for the Arts over the next three years and establish a basis for long-term planning and funding;
  • Begin discussion with the AUMA and AAMDC on “MSI 2” (Municipal Sustainability Initiative 2) that includes “no strings attached” to up-front funding; a funding model designed to recognize unique challenges of high growth areas and the importance of local decisions. We need to include our Metis settlements in the discussion and the model should also recognize that our two major centres have unique issues;
  • Suspend the implementation of regulations related to the Alberta Land Stewardship Act, until such time as all seven watersheds are fully studied and the implication of water-use is comprehensively understood with regard to the environment and economy;
  • Determine with industry and Albertans, the current and forecast transmission capacity requirements and ensure that transmission line construction meets our anticipated capacity requirements. The final determination of transmission construction should rest with Alberta`s elected officials;
  • Increasing time spent engaging Albertans in home constituencies by elected representatives on matters of importance to Albertans; and
  • Eliminate hiring freezes and other imposed barriers to attracting the best and the brightest into the public service;
  • Provide opportunities for Government of Alberta employees to be engaged in their communities and to contribute to volunteer organizations;
  • Amend the Municipal Government Act to establish four-year terms of elected officials to allow for greater long-term planning;
  • Commit to long-term funding for regional school divisions across the province, each with the authority to deliver services and also to publicly share performance metrics which benchmark and compare performance with the other provincial regions. We must have a funding model that recognizes that some areas and issues are not the same across the Province.
  • Harness the brainpower and feedback of 3.7 million Albertans on a continual basis with online policy forums that promote democracy and engagement across the province;

In particular, Horner has a lot of very interesting policies regarding healthcare and promotion of healthy lifestyles, to address the cause rather than the symptom of ballooning health costs.


The Long & Short Of It:

In a race with a lot of VERY smart people, it's been suggested that Horner may be the smartest. The problems he runs into are simple politics: He's from the north. He's considered rural. He's tied to the outgoing Premier and administration. Perhaps the most damning criticism of Horner as "Premier material", though, was brought up to me at the Calgary forum: "He's extremely warm in person, like Ed, but he comes across as nerdy and boring at the front of the room, just like Ed, and Danielle's going to eat him for lunch". If the new leader is brilliant and personally warm, but loses the election, then they'll be a brilliant and warm Leader of the Opposition for the 6 months it takes the party to throw them to the wolves and pick someone else to take them to the top of the mountain again. We've seen glances, now and then, of Horner speaking passionately on health and education in particular. We need to see more of that guy in the next week. We need to see the Doug Horner who would stand toe-to-toe with Danielle Smith and Raj Sherman and give as good as he's getting. We need to see Doug Horner the way he is in front of the t.v. when Henry Burris breaks a tackle and streaks down the sideline. Fired up. Passionate. Inspiring. If we see THAT guy over these next 6 days, it might be enough to propel him onto the second ballot.

Doug Horner campaign website

Calgary Herald profile and video for Doug Horner



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