Longtime Alberta politician Doug Horner resigning

WATCH ABOVE: Former finance minister Doug Horner will be stepping aside at the end of the month. Tom Vernon was there when he made the announcement.

EDMONTON – Former Alberta finance minister Doug Horner – the last link to one of the first families of Canadian politics – is calling it quits.

Horner, 54, announced Thursday he is leaving politics on Jan. 31 after a career that included terms as deputy premier and treasurer in the Progressive Conservative government.

Global News

“It’s been a fabulous honour and a fabulous opportunity to serve the people of Alberta for 14 years and 10 years in cabinet,” said Horner.

He said it’s time to call it a career after 14 years serving five premiers.

“The time has come for me to move on, and to let others take that (responsibility) on,” he said outside his legislature office.

“There’s going to be an election. There’s going to be a byelection. There are things that need to happen and I think you need somebody who is going to be committed for that longer run.”

Horner is in his fourth term representing the riding of Spruce Grove-St. Albert. He was first appointed to cabinet under former premier Ralph Klein and, besides finance, worked in the advanced education and agriculture portfolios.

“When Ralph Klein put me in cabinet the very first day, I was standing on a ladder taking down a campaign sign. I was flabbergasted that I would get that honour and I’ve been pinching myself every day I come into this building ever since.”

His family roots run deep in politics. His grandfather, Ralph Horner, served for 31 years in the Senate for the Conservatives. His father, Hugh Horner, was an MP before joining Peter Lougheed and the provincial PCs in 1967. He was with Lougheed when the PCs took over government in 1971 and launched the political dynasty that continues to this day. He worked closely with Lougheed as deputy premier.

Doug Horner’s uncles, Jack and Norval Horner, along with cousin Albert Horner, were also elected to Parliament.

Horner worked in agriculture before he was first elected to the legislature in 2001. As agriculture minister, he fought to reopen markets after the mad cow scare and, as advanced education minister, helped reduce duplication and promote co-operation among post-secondary schools.

Along the way, he forged a reputation as a consensus builder and gentleman politician.

He made one grab for the brass ring when he ran against Alison Redford and Gary Mar in the 2011 race to take over from Ed Stelmach as PC party leader and premier. He finished third, but then became one of Redford’s key lieutenants as well as her finance minister.

READ MORE: Alison Redford voted Alberta Tory leader; will become province’s next premier 

But the good times turned sour. Widening price differentials on oil prompted Redford to begin taking on billions of dollars in debt to pay for infrastructure. The government changed reporting methods for the budget, which sowed confusion and ignited accusations that Horner was trying to hide bad financial news.

He was the point man for planned changes to public-sector pensions, which brought more accusations that the government was raiding worker nest eggs. The changes were eventually shelved.

Redford quit as premier last March amid an escalating scandal over opulent spending on herself and advisers.

Horner was later criticized when the auditor general reported that on Horner’s watch, Redford and government MLAs used government aircraft to fly to personal and political events.

READ MORE: Alberta opposition parties calling for public inquiry, finance minister’s resignation in light of auditor general report 

Horner acknowledged at the time that he was in charge of the planes, but said it wasn’t his job to police his colleagues. He wrote an angry, defensive email to his caucus mates, which was subsequently leaked to the media.

He said Thursday he had been thinking of leaving for more than a year, but said he wasn’t going because of problems from the Redford premiership.

“I won’t deny it was a very difficult time,” he said.

“(But) six months worth of negative out of 14 (years) in politics, I think one should expect that in any career.”

He also made no apologies for running up $11 billion in debt to pay for infrastructure, something that will continue under current premier Jim Prentice.

“There is no business person that I have talked to, that is involved in a growing economy, that would tell you that you should do what we did in the ’90s, which was to balance the budget by not building schools. It makes no sense.”

Horner is not in Prentice’s cabinet, but is a senior adviser for him on economic issues. The premier, speaking in Calgary, thanked Horner for his work, particularly as finance minister.

“It was with regret that I received the news this morning that Doug Horner would be stepping down as a Member of the Legislative Assembly later this month,” he said. “Doug has been a tireless worker for the people of Alberta for many years.” (Click here to read his full statement).

“Some of what we’re dealing with in terms of the financial circumstances in this province right now were made a little easier by some of the very good work that Doug did.”

Horner said he will return to the business world and will look at opportunities in Asia.

In a post on his Facebook page, Horner wrote the following:

“Dear constituents, friends and supporters,

It is with mixed emotions that I announce today that I will be resigning as a Member of the Legislative Assembly and Senior Advisor to the Premier effective January 31, 2015.

Having had the privilege of representing the constituents of Spruce Grove-St. Albert, and before that Spruce Grove-Sturgeon-St. Albert, since first elected in 2001, the time has come for me to begin a new chapter. For 14 years, I have been honoured to serve Albertans at the Alberta Legislature, both in my capacity as MLA and as Deputy Premier, Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Advanced Education and Technology, President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance, and Senior Advisor.

Alongside my legislature colleagues, and under the leadership of five premiers, I have seen our great province make tremendous strides, overcome unparalleled challenges, and benefit from unprecedented growth. I am proud to have a place our provincial history books, and to have carried on my family’s legacy of public service to Alberta.

I look forward undertaking new endeavours, returning to the private sector where I began my career years ago.

While it is with some sadness that I say goodbye to the many friends and colleagues with which I have been blessed during my time as an elected official, I know that our province is in good hands. Alberta will continue to face challenges, but it will continue to grow and thrive, and adapt to a changing world.

I remain a committed member of the Progressive Conservative team, and I know it is this party that will continue to lead Alberta into a promising future. I have full confidence in the leadership of Premier Prentice, and the support and strength he garners from our dedicated Cabinet and Government Caucus members.

I would like to thank all those who have supported me over the years, and entrusted me to serve our province. I will forever be humbled and grateful for the opportunities granted me as a public servant.

God bless.”

With files from Global News, Bill Graveland with The Canadian Press

© The Canadian Press, 2015

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