By KENDALL KING, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on October 21, 2021.
Medicine Hat city council underwent one of the most dramatic changes in its history Monday, going from seven males and one female to one led by a female majority.
Ramona Robins, Allison Knodel, Alison Van Dyke, Cassi Hider and Shila Sharps were all elected as first time city councillors. They are joined by Medicine Hat’s first female mayor elect, Linnsie Clark.
Hider was surprised by the results but believes the change reflects voter concerns.
“It seems across the province, the female voice has become a little stronger;” Hider said Tuesday. “I think women just bring a very different perspective to the economy, development, social issues (as well as) the concerns of the citizens.”
“I think it’s a broader cultural recognition of all that women have to offer in governance,” says Van Dyke. “We have many capable women in this city already doing tremendous work, but we’ve seen that lacking at the municipal level. I’m really happy that people are recognizing the benefits that women have to offer in our community.”
One phrase repeating in discussions with the newly elected councillors was ‘different perspective.’
“We do bring a different perspective on the concerns of the citizens of Medicine Hat,” said Hider. “Obviously men and women think differently but it doesn’t mean it’s wrong … I think it will be a great collaboration.”
Knodel agrees and hopes the increase in female perspectives will allow council to engage with constituents in a manner it hasn’t before.
“I think naturally women want to care for and nurture others. By being more thoughtful about how other people feel we can inspire our community to take part in big decisions,” she told the News.
“It shows there are people out there who share their experience and will be mindful of the impact and influences in women’s lives and incorporating that into policy making,” said Van Dyke, who hopes the presence of female councillors will allow women in the community to feel heard on a deeper level.
“Women integrate many parts of community and personal lives; there’s no separation … Every part of what I do influences other parts,” said Van Dyke. “When I go to work I think about what my kids are doing, if they need picking up, what I’m making for supper, the next meeting I have, etc.
“I’m hoping that having a more diverse council, both in gender and in age range, we’re going to have more experience to draw on and more diversity in thought. (As a result) you have better decision making (and will) be meeting the needs of more people.”
Robins believes the addition of five female councillors was not so much a deliberate choice by voters to include women, as it was a result of having so many female candidates.
“I don’t think the election result is a response against men for women, necessarily. I think this particular election cycle attracted female candidates who are really skilled and passionate. So, I think the result reflects that more than it does a gender issue.”
“The message in my opinion is we want a change, we need a change, and we’re going to vote a change,” said Shila Sharps. “(Hatters) just wanted people, in this case women, that were strong minded (and) weren’t scared to speak up. Because in my mind, they haven’t seen that.”
Robins feels female candidates, in particular, were inspired to run because they recognized the need for change in Medicine Hat governance and wanted that change to be spearheaded by individuals who shared the same concerns.
“Certainly, in the last 18 months, you start to look at your community and you start to look at the leaders in your community and you say – as I did – ‘does this council, does this mayor, represent me and the values that are important to me?’ I just started thinking, I don’t see myself represented there. Not that I was critical of their representation necessarily, but I just didn’t see anyone like myself and I think the other female candidates felt the same.”
Never before has the city of Medicine Hat had this many women elected into municipal government, but according to the 2016 census more than 50% of Hatters are women.
“Representation matters,” said Robins. “It matters for the voters and for little girls and little boys who are looking at the leaders in the community, which the council should be. Little girls can say ‘there’s people like me’ and little boys can say ‘there’s people like my mom and my sister and my aunt.’ I think that really does something for the next generation. There’s a famous quote by an astronaut. She says, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ … That resonates for me.”
Outgoing councillor Julie Friesen, who chose not to seek re-election, is pleased to see a larger female representation on council, but reiterates that results are a reflection of constituents’ values, not genders.
“The important thing is the gifts, the skills, the knowledge, the backgrounds that people bring to the table, whether they’re female or male,” Friesen says. “I think, generally speaking there was a large appetite for change, new perspectives, new ideas (and) different thinking.”
Friesen is excited to see what actions the new council will take and encourages each member to continue working in the interest of Hatters.
“Each council member carries a heavy, challenging, exciting and rewarding responsibility on behalf of the people,” Freisen said. “They each have an obligation to be prepared and explore, research, contribute and vote in the way they think best represents the people of Medicine Hat.”