James Deverell Horsman CM, QC, LLD
Jim Horsman’s service to Alberta includes his many contributions during five consecutive terms as a Member of the Legislative Assembly and 14 years as a Minister of the Crown, his efforts to strengthen post-secondary education in the province, and his distinguished service representing Alberta and Canada on the international stage. He has been a driving force behind many programs and institutions that shape the quality of life enjoyed by Albertans.
Jim was born in Camrose, Alberta in 1935. During the Second World War, he lived in nearby Meeting Creek with his grandparents while his father, George, served overseas and his mother, Kathleen, served as the first postmistress at the Suffield Defence Research Establishment. After the war, Jim’s family moved to Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan where his father worked as a CPR fireman and engineer. The family grew with the arrival of Jim’s sister, Lynn.
Jim was an active and avid student who, although naturally introverted, excelled at debating and public speaking. He left Moose Jaw to study at the University of British Columbia where he earned a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1959, followed by a law degree in 1960. He began his career articling in Calgary and may well have stayed there were it not for a visit to a cousin who was a veterinarian practicing in Medicine Hat. While there, Jim met a local lawyer who needed a partner. He jumped at the prospect and joined the practice. Shortly after settling in Medicine Hat, Jim met a young high school teacher named Betty Whitney, the daughter of a pioneer Alberta ranch family. They were married in 1964 and began raising a family. Those early years marked the beginning of a remarkable association between Jim and a community he has long been proud to serve.
He began with a small legal practice that covered everything from drafting wills to defending criminal cases. Jim enjoyed the work, particularly opportunities to argue cases in court. He also began to foster a growing interest in public life. Jim became an activist with the Alberta Progressive Conservative Party and served as the Vice President for Southern Alberta before throwing his own hat in the ring as a candidate. He made two unsuccessful attempts before becoming the MLA for Medicine Hat in 1975.
Jim’s years at the Alberta Legislature included terms as Minister of Advanced Education and Manpower, Minister of Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs, Attorney General and Provincial Secretary, Government House Leader and Deputy Premier. His considerable legacies from this period include his leadership of Alberta’s negotiations during both the Canada/USA Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA and his work as Alberta’s key representative during the 10 years of discussions following the repatriation of the Constitution of Canada. He also established the Alberta Heritage Scholarship Fund, which has endowed over 10,000 Alberta students annually since it was first introduced in 1981 and successfully promoted private sector support for Alberta universities and colleges and technical institutions.
Jim continued to serve Albertans after leaving politics in 1993, including work as Alberta’s chief negotiator on the issues of free trade within Canada. Jim also served as Chancellor of the University of Lethbridge and continues to support the university’s leading work in water and environmental research. He was a founding member of the Alberta Ingenuity Board and has served Albertans as a member of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Awards Foundation. Over the years, Jim has represented the province as a national and international speaker on constitutional law, senate reform and free trade and as a member of the Advisory Board of the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States.
Jim’s contributions to Medicine Hat over the years include a term as chair of the Medicine Hat College Board of Governors and many other activities in support of the school. He chaired the 1995 Medicine Hat Flood Relief Committee and has served with the local Kinsmen Club, the Chamber of Commerce, St. John’s Presbyterian Church and countless teams devoted to projects from renovating the local court house, library and YMCA to developing sports facilities. Jim and Betty provide scholarships and student leadership awards to three Medicine Hat high schools, as well as scholarships for University of Lethbridge political science students.
His many honours include membership in the Order of Canada, an Honourary Doctor of Laws Degree from the University of Lethbridge, the Queen Elizabeth II Silver and Golden Jubilee Medals, the Governor General’s 125th Anniversary Medal and the Alberta Centennial Medal.
Jim has always remained unassuming in the face of his many accomplishments. He is known and respected as much for his humility, great sensitivity and ability to listen to others as he is for the remarkable things he has done on behalf of his fellow Albertans.