Parliamentary Relatives: The Horner Political Dynasty

Article 1 / 9 , Vol. 44, No. 3 (Fall)

Parliamentary Relatives: The Horner Political Dynasty

“Horner Family Political Dynasty to End; Former Finance Minister who comes from a Long Line of Elected Conservatives Announces that He Will Give up His Seat on Jan. 31,” declared a Globe and Mail headline on January 23, 2015. It is not known how or even if the Horner political clan reacted to the headline. What is clear is that the Toronto-based newspaper had under-estimated the longevity of one of Western Canada’s pre-eminent political families. On April 16, 2019, Nate Horner was elected as the Member of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta for Drumheller-Stettler, and the long-standing political dynasty based in the Prairies continues.

As with many Prairie families, the Horners started out elsewhere, with the family first settling in Quebec in the 1800s, having emigrated from Ireland. Ralph Horner, one of the sons of the immigrant family, moved to Saskatchewan in the early 1900s, to establish a farm there. He soon entered political life, running, unsuccessfully, for the provincial Assembly on two occasions before being appointed to the Senate in 1933, where he served until 1964.

Senator Horner and his wife, Mae, had a large family of nine children, many of whom were active in politics and two of whom made their names in the political realm: Jack Horner and Dr. Hugh Horner.

When Jack Horner came of age, he started a mixed farming operation at Pollockville in East-Central Alberta. He soon entered politics, running for the first time in 1958 for the Progressive Conservative Party in the federal constituency of Acadia, which was later renamed Crowfoot. Jack Horner represented the constituency from 1958-1979 and was a staunch advocate for Western interests, especially fair freight rates. He ran against Joe Clark in 1976 for the leadership of the federal Progressive Conservative Party, but lost. He crossed the floor to join the Trudeau Government in 1977, becoming Minister of Industry, Trade and Commerce for a time before he lost his seat in Crowfoot in the 1979 federal election.

Dr. Hugh Horner, Jack Horner’s older brother by two years, took a different path, studying medicine at the University of Western Ontario, and setting up as general practitioner in the town of Barrhead, Alberta, north-west of Edmonton. But like Jack, Hugh Horner was also elected as a Progressive Conservative Member of Parliament in 1958. He remained in federal politics until 1967, when he opted to run in the provincial general election. Four years later Dr. Horner was credited with being integral to the success of Peter Lougheed’s Progressive Conservative Party by diverting much rural support to the Progressive Conservatives from the Social Credit Party, enabling the first change of government in Alberta in 36 years. Dr. Hugh Horner, affectionately referred to as “Doc” by his close friends and associates, remained in Alberta politics for a number of years, serving as Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Economic Development and Deputy Premier. He resigned his Cabinet post and position as MLA following the 1979 provincial general election, becoming Canada’s first federal grain coordinator.

Dr. Hugh Horner’s youngest child, Douglas, took up the political mantle, as his father, uncle and others within the Horner clan had done before him, when he entered provincial politics, running and winning a seat in the 2001 Alberta general election. Doug Horner, who had a business background, also ran in the 2004, 2008, and 2012 provincial general elections, being successful on each occasion. Following the 2004 election, Doug Horner followed his father’s lead by being appointed Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development. In 2006, he became Minister of Advanced Education, remaining in that post until 2011, when he resigned his Cabinet position to run, unsuccessfully, for the leadership of the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party. In 2012, Doug Horner was appointed President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance and Deputy Premier, positions he held until he retired from active political life in 2015.

Just when it seemed as though the Horner political dynasty might end, Nate Horner, a rancher from Pollockville, Alberta, entered the political arena, winning the Drumheller-Stettler seat in the 2019 provincial general election. In his maiden speech in the Assembly, he referenced his family’s political predilections: “I come from kind of a political family … [M]y great-grandfather [was] a Senator, and there have been quite a few since who have served federally and here in Alberta. I should have known enough to stay away, but there’s obviously a strong hereditary defect. I like to think it’s because we care about people.”1

Nate Horner recently was given the opportunity to serve through a Cabinet position. He has been appointed the Associate Minister of Rural Economic Development, mirroring the paths taken by Cousin Doug and Great Uncle Hugh before him. Through his election and this appointment, Honourable Nate Horner is not only able to serve the people of his constituency and all Albertans; he is able to be the most recent representative of the longstanding Horner political clan. It is unlikely that he will be the last.