James (Jim) Horsman, QC, CM has led an extraordinary life, most of which he has dedicated to serving his community. After graduating from law school, Mr. Horsman moved back to his home province of Alberta and embarked on a momentous career in law, politics, higher education, and public service. Mr. Horsman’s can-do attitude and selflessness has led him to take on various roles and his law degree from the Allard School of Law placed him in a position to have a lasting impact on the Medicine Hat community and beyond.
Note: Responses are paraphrased.
What led you to pursue law school? Were you always planning to go to law school?
Neither of my parents graduated from high school and because of this my parents were adamant that I pursue post-secondary education. In my early high school days I became interested in the study of law and I decided that I wanted to attend law school. I was attracted to the joint Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws program at the University of British Columbia (UBC), so I made the decision to move to Vancouver and pursue my studies at UBC.
You graduated from the Allard School of Law in 1960. What would you say are some of the biggest changes you see in law school today versus when you were a student?
When I was in law school the class sizes were much smaller than they are today. My graduating class was 63 people and the law school curriculum was quite general. Today the curriculum offers an array of specialized courses, which gives students the opportunity to engage with niche subject areas.
Early in your career you made the decision to leave your articled position at a large firm in Calgary and move to Medicine Hat to start your own law practice. Can you tell me more about what prompted this change? What was the most rewarding part of this move?
After I graduated from the Allard School of Law I began my articles at a large firm in Calgary. Approximately six months into my articles I traveled to Medicine Hat to visit my cousin and during this visit I met Hugh McMillan, a lawyer who was in need of a partner. Hugh proposed that I move to Medicine Hat and that we start our own firm. I wanted to fully immerse myself in the practice of law, but in Calgary I spent most of my time doing clerical work. The benefit of moving to a town smaller than Calgary was that I would have the opportunity to do more than file court and land title documents. I quickly made the move to Medicine Hat, completed my articles under Hugh's supervision, and together we started our own firm. During my articles and practice I was able to do a little bit of everything and it is the generalist nature of a smaller town law firm which I particularly enjoyed during my legal career. I worked on everything from drafting wills to murder trials and I am grateful for the opportunity to have had such a broad practice which allowed me to experience multiple areas of the law.
You served as a member of the Alberta legislature from 1975-1993. What motivated you to pursue a career in politics?
During my law degree I served as a member of the UBC Alma Mater Society (AMS) as the Coordinator of Activities and the Coordinator of Publications. My early involvement in student government ignited my interest in politics, and this interest grew during Diefenbaker’s time in office. I was inspired by Diefenbaker’s approach to equality, his introduction of the Canadian Bill of Rights, and his overarching desire to reduce discrimination in Canada. My admiration of Diefenbaker’s political views led me to volunteer with the federal Progressive Conservative party. Shortly thereafter Peter Lougheed was elected leader of the Alberta Progressive Conservative party. At the time of Lougheed’s election, the Progressive Conservatives had no seats in the Alberta legislature. With the 1967 election fast approaching, Lougheed needed prospective MLAs, and that is when he called on me to run for the Medicine Hat MLA position. I was elected in 1975 and over the nearly two decades I was in office I served as the Minister of Advanced Education and Manpower, the Minister of Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs, Attorney General and Provincial Secretary, Government House Leader, and Deputy Premier. I was appointed as the Minister of Advanced Education and Manpower partly because of my previous role as the Chair of the Medicine Hat College Board of Governors and my strong belief in the importance of post-secondary education. During my time as the Minister of Advanced Education and Manpower I introduced the Alberta Heritage Scholarship Fund, which has helped thousands of Albertans pursue post-secondary education. As the Minister of Federal and Intergovernmental Affairs I had a leadership role in the Canada/US free trade negotiations and the start of NAFTA, as well I served as Alberta’s Minister responsible for constitutional negotiations for the 10 years following the repatriation of the Constitution until the Charlottetown Accord.
Currently you are working with the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada Office (IRCC). Could you tell me more about your current role and what led you to take it on? Is there a particularly memorable moment for you in your role with the IRCC?
I was appointed as a member of the Order of Canada in 2006 and as a member of the Order of Canada I am able to preside over citizenship ceremonies. At the time of my induction to the Order of Canada there was no one in south eastern Alberta who was authorized to conduct citizenship ceremonies. I was asked to fill this gap and since 2007 I have presided over biannual citizenship ceremonies in both Brooks and Medicine Hat. The ceremonies are joyous occasions and most recently at a ceremony in Brooks I welcomed 125 new citizens from 30 different countries. I cherish the opportunity to play a role in such an important day for these new citizens and I am humbled when I am approached by individuals on the street, years after their citizenship ceremonies, who recognize me and thank me for presiding over their ceremony.
Outside your current role with the IRCC, what do you like to do in your free time?
To keep busy I still engage in a fair amount of public speaking. I am currently a senior advisor to the Canadian American Border Trade Alliance, an organization which promotes free trade. Within this capacity I sat on a panel at a conference in Washington last fall and I recently traveled to a conference in Ottawa to participate. As Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Lethbridge, I maintain an active interest in the affairs of that institution. As well, I enjoy travelling to new places and meeting new people. With my late wife Betty, we travelled the world on ocean cruises and on land. Together we visited all Canadian provinces and territories. Most recently I was in China on a river cruise during the 2017 National Congress of the Communist Party of China, which was incredibly interesting to observe. I particularly enjoyed cruising because we were able to meet interesting people from all around the world. To relax I enjoy reading biographies, historical pieces, and analyses of current politics. I just finished reading Web of Debt and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in a critical analysis of our monetary system. To stay active I enjoy walking my American Eskimo named Willow (although it is really her who is walking me) and I swim regularly. Of course I also enjoy spending time with my family (I have three daughters and nine grandchildren) and many dear friends.
I noticed that you have a cocktail named after you! The “Horsman” is described as a mixture of premium dark rum, Coca-Cola, and a splash of orange juice. Can you tell me about how this drink came to be?
Although I have never had one, this drink does indeed exist and is still enjoyed by some Alberta politicians. During my time in the legislature a group of young Progressive Conservatives crafted the cocktail. I don’t know exactly what prompted them to tribute the cocktail to me, but I think it is kind of funny to have been honoured in such a fashion.
Given your breadth of experience in public office and various other roles where you have served your community, what is a piece of advice you would like to pass down to young lawyers entering the world of politics and public service?
One of the things Peter Lougheed always said was to remember that whenever you are in public office, never claim that you are or aim to be in power. Lougheed said that your job is not to be in power, your job is to serve the people that you represent and the people who elected you. I think that it is important for politicians to remember who they are serving and to try to help as many people as they possibly can. This is an ideal that remains with me, and even today when people ask for my help, whether it is to chair the Medicine Hat Flood Relief Committee or help build a sports facility, I always say yes.
Alumni Profile written by Crichton Scott in May 2018.