Jeremy Harrison, MPA Alumnus
Jeremy Harrison, MPA Alumnus

A career in politics

In 2008, Jeremy Harrison was in the first cohort of students at the newly minted Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy—just what you would expect from someone who had, by the age of 30, obtained an undergraduate degree, a law degree and become the youngest Canadian ever to have been elected to both the House of Commons and a provincial Legislative Assembly.

An Honourable Calling

Today, the Honourable Jeremy Harrison, MLA for Meadow Lake, is Associate Minister of the Economy responsible for Immigration, Jobs, Skills and Training, Trade, Tourism and Innovation. And he’s not shy about crediting Johnson Shoyama with making him a better MLA and a better cabinet minister.

The Road to Johnson Shoyama

“I’ve been interested in politics since I was 18—that’s when I got my first membership in the Reform Party. I got more involved when I was at the University of Alberta. I worked for Stephen Harper's leadership campaigns in 2002 and 2004, I was part of his staff when he was Leader of the Opposition in Ottawa, and I served on the national executive of the Canadian Alliance, which became the Conservative Party of Canada.”

In 2004, Jeremy put his own name on the national ballot and was elected to serve the northern riding of Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River. When he lost the 2006 election by a slim margin, he decided to re-evaluate and refocus. “I graduated from the University of Saskatchewan College of Law in 2004, but I hadn’t articled and I wanted to get that done. So, I made a conscious decision to article in a firm where I could do grassroots law: real estate transactions, wills and estates, family law issues, all the basics.”

Jeremy not only completed his articles, he did it while running (and winning) as the Saskatchewan Party candidate in the Meadow Lake constituency in 2007. No sooner had he finished his articles than he decided to apply to the Master of Public Administration program at Johnson Shoyama. “I was going to be in Regina for the fall and spring legislative sessions, and the program was set up so I could take block courses, so it seemed like a good fit.”

Relevant Issues, Many Perspectives

One of the things Jeremy has always enjoyed about public life is the opportunity to work closely with leaders such Premier Wall and Prime Minister Harper. At Johnson Shoyama, he was delighted to discover opportunities to learn from professors who were also leaders in their fields. “One of my first and favourite classes was taught by Greg Marchildon and Roy Romanow. Despite having different partisan political outlooks, I have a ton of respect for both men, and it was fascinating to hear their perspectives on Canadian federalism. It was a great course.

“I took a course with Robert Hawkins, a law professor and Regina city councillor. We were exploring contemporary constitutional issues in class that I was also dealing with as a member of government, so it was fascinating. Another course on public policy and public opinion dealt with very relevant issues.”

While Jeremy often found himself debating different viewpoints, there were times when a class would come together on an issue—such as the BHP Billiton takeover bid of PotashCorp in 2010. “Bill Boyd and I were lead ministers for the provincial government on the takeover bid, so we were spending a lot of time in Ottawa. We had just received what we felt was the right decision from the federal government, and I remember going into class that night and seeing people celebrating. It validated that this was a really big deal.”

Some of Jeremy’s fondest Johnson Shoyama moments centered on the class discussions. “Be prepared to engage in discussion—that was one of the first lessons I learned in the MPA program,” he says. “You had to do the reading and come to class prepared. It was stimulating, and I really enjoyed the willingness of professors and colleagues to be open-minded about different points of view. That diversity of opinion was one of the most valuable things about the program for me.

“There were also a lot of program components that proved valuable in helping me do the job of a minister. You’re learning the skills of a civil servant, like being able to draft a formal CDI (cabinet decision item) or BN (briefing note). These are basic tools, but they’re essential to the machinery of government.”

Making Things Better

Jeremy grew up in Meadow Lake, the constituency he now serves as MLA. He, his wife Alaina and their small children divide their time between Regina and Meadow Lake. “When I’m not working, I want to go home, and home is Meadow Lake. I can go fishing, go to the gun range, head out to the forest—it’s where I want to be.  It’s just a wonderful community.”

After almost 8 years in the Legislative Assembly and more than a decade in politics, he’s familiar with public cynicism about government. “I understand the cynicism, but I also know that public service is an honourable calling. Most folks are here for the right reasons—we want to make things better for our families, our neighbours, our communities. We might disagree on how we get to a certain point, but there’s also a significant amount of dialogue and cooperation among parties.”

Since receiving his MPA in 2011, he’s seen a number of colleagues enroll at Johnson Shoyama. “That speaks to the program’s value—knowledge you gain, the experiences you come away with, the discussions and differing points of view you’re exposed to. Johnson Shoyama made me a better MLA and a better cabinet minister.”