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The life of Doug Horner is one lived in many shadows.
There's that of his father, Hugh Horner, a physician, former MP, MLA and cabinet minister ally of Alberta's revered former premier, Peter Lougheed. There's his grandfather, Ralph Horner, once a senator. His uncles, Jack and Norval, were both Members of Parliament. There are his mentors, former premiers Ed Stelmach and Don Getty.
And now there's his Progressive Conservative party's present leader, Premier Alison Redford.
Mr. Horner, 52, is the man of the hour in Alberta Thursday. As Finance Minister and President of the Treasury Board, he's tabling Ms. Redford's budget, one that the pair have pledged will reshape the province's fiscal landscape by saving, like Mr. Lougheed did, for the future. But it will also send the province back into debt – questions of which Ms. Redford dismissed as parochial – and backtrack on a host of promises made in the past year.
The budget, then, is a landmark moment for the latest member of the Horner political lineage. And, in his budget speech Thursday, Mr. Horner plans to pay homage to his late father and the legacy of the late Mr. Lougheed.
"I think that this is the kind of budget that my dad would counsel me to do. Because what he would say is do the right thing, be pragmatic about your approach, don't just hack and slash because that's too easy, you've got to put some thought into it," Mr. Horner told The Globe and Mail Wednesday, on the eve of the budget. "This province can do wondrous things if we set the right stage."
Mr. Horner, like the premier, comes from the centre flank of the province's Progressive Conservative dynasty. The 52-year-old Mr. Horner, who is married with three children and three grandchildren, first won his seat in a rural riding west of Edmonton in 2001. He later served as Deputy Premier for Mr. Stelmach, who triggered the present run of six consecutive deficits, and received the endorsement of Mr. Getty, whose deficit spending ushered in the Ralph Klein era of cuts, during the leadership race. It was Mr. Klein who, famously, paid off the provincial debt. Mr. Horner isn't dismayed by red ink, nor were some of his mentors – though they ultimately paid a political price for it. If Ms. Redford was looking for an ally to buy into her borrow-don't-cut mantra, Mr. Horner is it.
The budget is expected to slow spending growth in a fast-growing province – a de facto belt tightening – but avoid deep cuts. It won't introduce new taxes, the premier has said, though next year's budget could. It will start borrowing for infrastructure.
Mr. Horner told The Globe Wednesday that the province – as the premier has hinted – will not balance its budget this year, but will, over the next three years, save more than it borrows.
"The plan is to ensure that we have a solid financial footing. If defining a balanced budget is being in a cash balance, money-in-the-mattress kind of financial management, no, it's not going to add up. That's just not possible. And it's also not good financial management. If you're asking me if we're going to be in the black, profit-wise, in this [three-year budget projections] plan, the answer is yes. Operationally, in this three-year business plan, we will be in the black... In terms of the net financial assets of our province, they will grow."
Mr. Horner skipped a tradition this week, forgoing the new pair of shoes that a finance minister typically delivers a budget in. "We're doing with what we can, and we're living within our means, and I should too," he said.
They say they're channeling Mr. Lougheed. But debt and deficits remain a treacherous path in Alberta – Mr. Horner's mentors, Mr. Stelmach and Mr. Getty, aren't as fondly remembered as the budget-balancing Mr. Klein or the PC founding father, Mr. Lougheed.
Josh Wingrove is The Globe's Alberta legislative reporter in Edmonton.