September 25th, 2018

City notebook: A Christmas wish for some Oomph! in ’18

By Collin Gallant on December 23, 2017.

All I wanted for Christmas was John Hamill for mayor.

Now, now, now, don’t read that as a slight on our present chief magistrate, or of Hamill, or of hippopotami.

Don’t fear, dear reader, all will be explained in this near-to Christmas column that each year strays from the usual, sometimes tedious exploration of mostly city hall happenings.

Speaking of tedious, there’s barely a better word to sum up 2017. It’s rushing toward the finish line now, of course, and the News is preparing our list of top stories and newsmakers to run over the coming week.

There was a lot of crazy crime this year. Every day in October seems to have some sort of breaking news event, or several. There’s been good news and bad news, but even the weather — we had 34 days of plus-30 C temperatures this year — can be classified as a marathon.

Explaining, re-explaining and then explaining again a transit controversy was a first-class trudge.

Now, I’m a proud Canadian — peace, order and good government and all — but Canada 150 celebrations and our own civic election were a tad underwhelming, it must be said.

So, your author’s mind drifts to the recently rediscovered gem of a Christmas song “I want a hippopotamus for Christmas.”

Of course, the hippo is really a stand in for listener to imagine a completely fantastic, entirely impractical present that exists only to fulfil wonderment.

For some it’s a ’57 Chevy, a nine-foot espresso machine, a Versace handbag or something else that would require a bigger garage or a second mortgage.

Which brings us to Hamill, who enlivened a rather dreary municipal election, and in my case anyway is the hippopotamus in question.

Don’t chuckle too hard. The former alderman once proudly compared himself to the children’s movie character Shrek (an ogre), and is generally a good and jolly sort.

That’s why a Hamill administration is such a tantalizing thought.

“I would beg, steal and lie to bring industry to town,” he told an audience during what he says will be his final foray into politics.

Now, Hamill is not a complete wildman — he has served on provincial pension administration boards, which is less exciting than it sounds.

Yet, he’ll take it as a complement that his passion often runs afoul of prim and proper conceptions of politics, and dare-we-say political correctness, these days.

In a world of guarded statements and overthought messaging his off-the-cuff quotability is as good as visions of sugar plums.

Truth be told, a professional highlight this year was writing about the reintroduction of firepoles to city stations. The “Wheee!” factor can’t be denied.

Yes, a four-year term as mayor is serious stuff, and the election was certainly buttoned down.

Ted Clugston’s steady-as-she-goes campaign won him a second straight majority mandate. He didn’t look particularly happy doing it, though he seems to have regained some mojo recently.

Tom Fougere’s entry fell very flat for those who predicted nothing short of a prison-rules riot.

Whether you disagree or even dislike Hamill, you must have wondered what might it might have been like to have him as booster in chief, selling our city with a refreshing panache.

Mind you, there’s nothing to say he, or someone else, still can’t.

A look ahead

Council’s next meeting will be held on Jan. 8 after it was shuffled from its usual spot in the first Monday of the month owing to a lack of urgent business.

100 years ago

“Medicine Hat holds a proud place in the records of the Critical election held Monday,” the News stated in an editorial on Dec. 20, 1917, adding that “never before has a dominion election been fought so strenuously” as the one regarding military conscription.

The pro-draft Union Government won a majority, and Medicine Hat elected a war cabinet minister, A.L. Sifton, who is probably the most powerful person to ever represent the city.

The former Alberta premier told the News the West now held the sway of power and with the conscription issue settled “there was no need to say what can be done over the next four years.”

The News described the day as the busiest ever in the city with “cars, cabs and sleighs out gathering voters” and turnout among the women who earned their initial federal franchise as next-of-kin to military men was likely near 100 per cent.

A Christmas Day fire destroyed the R.N.W.M.P. barracks in police Point. Built in 1883 by Col. Sam Steele’s detachment, they were abandoned four years later.

Collin Gallant covers city politics and a variety of topics for the News. Reach him at 403-528-5664 or via email at

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