Alberta's reappointed ag minister, Nate Horner, to focus on water, the APF, and a new mandate

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Alberta’s Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation says he has a list of “good stuff that isn’t finished yet” that he’s planning to tackle following his reappointment to the agriculture post in cabinet by new Premier Danielle Smith.

Nate Horner was originally tapped to serve as the province’s agriculture minister by Smith’s predecessor Jason Kenney in November 2021.

Irrigation has not only been added to his ministerial title, but it’s also at the top of his list of unfinished work. Horner says he’s looking forward to moving ahead with $933 billion in investment that’s been announced for upgrading and building irrigation infrastructure in the province.

“A lot of that work has begun, but not all, and the [Canada] Infrastructure Bank is still interested in more projects within the province. We have some feasibility studies ongoing on some greenfield projects, and there is discussion around potential for some new reservoirs. So continuing to look at our water storage, and bringing resiliency into a system where we haven’t seen a tonne of new investment in that way really for 70 years, just continuing that work,” he says, in the interview below.

Attracting more value-added processing to Alberta is another priority, Horner says, noting commitments were made on this front during the party leadership contest that saw Smith become premier.

“There were tax credits, for value-added ag processing and manufacturing, that were pitched during the leadership campaign. So I intend to see that through with the Premier and see what can and should be done to make sure Alberta is more than competitive and landing a fair share of investment in that space,” he says.

Work is also underway on finalizing the fine print for the next five-year federal-provincial-territorial ag policy framework. Ag ministers from across the country, including Horner, signed the agreement-in-principle for the Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership in Saskatoon, Sask. in July, but the bilateral agreement between the Alberta and federal government on the details of what programs will look like has yet to be signed.

“It’s mostly details. The money’s there. It looks a little different in each province, what practices will work to achieve the broad goals. The department is optimistic and positive though. Things are are moving ahead well, so hopefully I’ll have more details in short order,” Horner says.

While Smith was chosen as party leader with a platform focused on boosting Alberta’s sovereignty and pushing back against the federal government, Horner says he doesn’t see that changing his interactions with the federal government on agriculture-related issues (Agriculture is unique compared to most other cabinet portfolios in that it falls under shared federal and provincial jurisdiction).

“I think the Premier is clear. When there are instances where we feel they’re intruding on our jurisdiction, we’re going to stand strong and use whatever tools at our disposal to make clear that, no, this is provincial jurisdiction. But I think we’ll continue that good work and much like signing the deal in Saskatoon, we also stood with Saskatchewan, and Ontario, and made clear we were unhappy about where we were at on the fertilizer [emissions] conversation and the consultation, that we wanted more clarity. So I think we’ll just continue to be upfront and honest, but stand up for ourselves. I don’t see it as changing much, but we’ll continue to do our job.”

It’s expected Horner and his cabinet colleagues will receive their mandate letters from Premier Smith next week.

Meanwhile, former MLA and Alberta Beef Producers’ vice-chair, Jason Hale, has been appointed as Alberta’s new Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation. Hale has submitted his resignation to ABP, after serving as its vice-chair since March 2021. He will work with Horner on overseeing day-to-day operations of the agriculture and irrigation ministry.

Listen to Nate Horner discuss his reappointment as Alberta’s ag minister, as well as his thoughts and comments on irrigation development, the new ag policy framework and working with the federal government, the federal fertilizer emissions policy, whether the dust has settled on major changes to agricultural research in Alberta,  and more:

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