By COLLIN GALLANT on October 23, 2021.
Linnsie Clark will become the first female mayor of Medicine Hat when she is sworn into office on Nov. 1.
The 41-year-old Hatter is also the youngest person to hold the position in 50 years and the first lawyer in the post since at least the First World War.
She recently sat down with city hall reporter Collin Gallant to talk about herself, the election, her positions and vision for the city.
Here is an abridged transcript of that conversation:
Q – The lead in the election night story was “from virtual unknown to mayor.” You didn’t have any social media accounts, and the News had trouble contacting you when the campaign began. What’s that transformation from private person to public figure been like?
A – I didn’t know that my status was ‘unknown’ until just recently. I had a picture in the paper in the 1990s at some point, but that probably doesn’t count. It was a bit of a whirlwind from deciding to run in July when we hit the ground running, sometimes awkwardly, but there wasn’t a lot of time to think about being known. We just concentrated on meeting as many Hatters as possible. Trying to connect and figure out what it is our community is looking for in leadership.
Q- But in politics name recognition is important. Do you think that hurt or helped you? Much of the analysis around the election is that people were looking for something different.
A – It’s hard to say. A certain part of the population maybe goes on name recognition, but for a number of reasons the timing was very right. People were looking for a change. So much effort has been put into getting women to run. Social media was important – more than the previous election. And with COVID, maybe people were bored of Netflix, so they started paying attention to politics.
Q – You didn’t have any social media accounts before you declared your campaign. You were interviewed on CBC News world this week. How are you dealing with new found celebrity?
A- It’s been so fast and one thing after another. I’m putting one foot ahead of the other, but the city is on the national stage, certainly the Alberta stage, but I haven’t thought too much about it.
Q – There are a number of new mayors throughout Alberta, have you spoken with any of them?
A – Not yet, but there’s a (mayors conference) coming up in November, so we’ll virtually meet. In a way, it’s good there are so many fresh faces, because that’s an opportunity to connect and learn from each other. We’re all in the same position, and what I’ve found is that people really do want collaboration. As much as we do that here in our region, we have that opportunity to do it with others across Alberta and the provincial government as well.
Q – Did you want to talk about being the first female candidate to break that “glass ceiling?” Some people do or don’t, or feel that it’s important but not the only thing that’s important.
A – It’s very important that women have greater opportunities, and that groundwork was laid well far before I ran. It’s always important to draw more people in to the political arena and make that more accessible. You get more perspectives.
If you look at the (local) female candidates who were elected, I hope myself included, I think you have a group of very capable, very intelligent, very diverse women. I hope that helped as well.
Q – You mentioned collaboration, and it was a key campaign theme for you, but what will that entail? Members of the outgoing council would say they certainly came to consensus and were unified. Is there a disconnect?
A – There’s a number of things there. Collaboration doesn’t necessarily mean there hasn’t been a debate or differences of opinion.
It means we’ll draw on expertise of the people around us to accomplish more.
For example, if we collaborate with Cypress County, we have differences, but can share resources.
Same thing for community groups, let’s draw in their resources. It’s about finding a shared goal and working toward that.
Transparency has to do with being open with the public about our decisions, what the opinions were and our data.
When we’re communicating that we have to make sure that’s interesting and in a way that lets people know what’s going on in the city.
Q – You are a lawyer in the city solicitors’ office (on an unpaid leave for the campaign), who ran a campaign somewhat critical of city hall. Voters likely concluded you were going to start digging up skeletons. Was that your motivation?
A – My motivation was the values I have and that others have, and I thought the city was drifting away from that. I want the city to be fair to everyone, and I’m not out to try and expose anything. But it’s about transparency, that we’re open and always acting in the best interest in the city.
“How does this benefit the community?” should always be the first question.
Q – But if ‘change’ is a big theme, what needs to change?
A – Not only does the public need all the information, council needs the best information to make the best decisions. I really want to make sure it’s all based on the best evidence. We need, as a council and a community, to know why a particular decision is best. If we’re talking about money or any resources, what’s the return? And that return can include social and environmental factors, but it has to be clear, and then we have to measure that.
Q – Can you give an example?
A – In a new development, the developer will pay a lot of the initial infrastructure costs, but afterwards, that’s all the city’s responsibility. These are very long-term liabilities. It should be clear to council what we’re taking on, what we’ll be paying and whether that’s acceptable.
Q– In that vein, how do you see Invest Medicine Hat (city economic development and sales) operating this term?
A – It’s a decision that council will have to make, but over the course of the next month or two months we’ll set a strategic plan. That’s a collaboration. In my platform, I was clear about what I want, and it’s echoed in some other platforms as well.
There is a “Business Retention Expansion Workforce Development” report and some key actions in there, one being an industrial cluster study… (to determine) what business is best here. That’s a collaboration with (schools and the college) private sector. We need to re-engage and get going.
The city’s (internal) long-term strategy includes.. a brownfield development strategy (for non-suburban redevelopment) and a tourism piece.
Q – The industrial strategy that is on the table deals with hydrogen production, which speaks to climate action, but one of the largest polluters in the region is the City of Medicine Hat’s power plant. What’s to be done there?
A – There again we need a long-term strategy. We operate on natural gas and we can take advantage of that as a backstop for renewables, so we’re well situated.
But we know that we’re in an energy transition. We know carbon taxes are here and there are more coming. There could be regulatory changes and disruptive technology.
These are all risks to the value of the electric utility. There will have to be an environmental element to the long-term electric utility plan. We’ll need to integrate renewables. We need to have a plan for “net zero” and what our opportunities for (carbon) offsets are, so that going forward we’re ahead of the game.
Q – On to the budget… your council will be asked to approve a plan to cut $8 million more from it next month after a $15-million cut in 2021. Keeping neighbourhood rec facilities was key in your campaign. What do you do?
A – We’re certainly going to have to look at the numbers. It’s difficult to tell from public documents, because a lot of times when you do a reorganization (like in 2021), the numbers don’t always shift from this line to that. Everyone is very interested and of course we want to keep rec facilities open, but maybe we’re not going to want to throw good money after bad. But that doesn’t mean we can’t rebuild in the same communities instead of on the edges of the city.
That’s what the recreation master plan is going to look at, and no decisions have been made on that. That’s one of the things this council is going to have to decide. What are the best options going forward? We’re going to have to prioritize what we really need and what we want. The “Waterfront District” has come up. Is that something that we can afford to spend money on?
Q – About downtown. Another candidate, Tony Leahy, called on the city to take the bull by the horns and tackle substance abuse, mental health and some of the poverty issues throughout the city.
A – The city needs to take a leadership role. Obviously we’re not the experts in this area, but we know that, despite the fact health and housing are provincial matters, the effects are felt in our community. So we can’t pretend it’s not happening. There needs to be a concerted effort to form a relationship with the province, and we’re not the only city experiencing these issues. We have many existing social service agencies already on the case, and I’d like to see the business community drawn into the conversation and basically do a gap analysis. Let’s figure out how to fill some of those gaps. There’s no silver bullet; it’s about making incremental progress towards the goal.
Q – Provincial politics were mentioned a lot during the campaign. Your opponent Ted Clugston said he was worried about a left-leaning council. You haven’t made any statement about your political leanings, but former Mayor Ted Grimm introduced you at a victory party that was attended by former New Democrat MLA Bob Wanner.
A – I’ve said all along that for me left wing and right wing are a false dichotomy. I defy people to define conservative in a way everyone would agree, or progressive. Same with left or right. For me it’s just about making good decisions that meet our shared goals of a healthy economy, healthy people and a healthy environment. Those are goals we all agree with, but where we differ is how we get to those goals. I’m not always right, but it’s nice to have those different voices and in the end we’re here to serve the city.
Q – Would you rather see the Memorial Cup hosted here, or get the waterslides back?
A – Ohhh. I’m going to go with the Memorial Cup.
Q – To begin with we said it’s a getting-to-know-you interview, then we got caught up in issues and politics. What should people know about Linnsie Clark the person?
A – I want people to know they’re fairly treated and to build relationships in this community. I genuinely care about the people in this community, and I think most people do. Sometimes there’s a barrier to understanding another person’s perspective. I really want this council to elevate the level of discourse, the respectfulness of the discourse. There are a lot of divisions right now and I hope over four years, this council can display some really positive relationship building and conflict resolution, and set an example for this community.
Q – What would you like Medicine Hatters to know about you? You grew up in Medicine Hat in a ranching family? We’ve been citing your age as 40.
A – I’m 41, so record corrected. I’m Medicine Hat High class of ’97. It was a real privilege (growing up near Oyen) really in the middle of nowhere. We had a party line (telephone exchange) at one point. Not isolated, but really insulated with a big family (with five kids), playing in a pond and playing on machinery and bike rides. It was a great opportunity to learn a lot of stuff and grow a connection with nature. That continued when we moved to town (at age 8), because my parents still had a ranch south of town.
From here I went to the University of Lethbridge, then the University of Victoria (to earn a law degree).
I worked for about 10 years with the hospital employees union in Burnaby, B.C. then briefly in Edmonton, and then came home to the city in 2017. Time flies, but I always intended on coming home, all of a sudden 10 years had past. The opportunity with the city was truly amazing. I like the smaller town feel, and Vancouver didn’t have that.
Q – What are your interests.
A – I’m really kind of an introvert. Hanging out with my family. Board games are an interest. I really like learning new things, so I like listening to podcasts or researching things.
I feel like there are so many cool things out there, you can really wind up down a rabbit hole on some things. I’m very interested in behavioural economics. I was on a theoretical physics kick for a while. I’m not saying I truly understand them. I’m maybe a novice, but I find them really interesting. My undergrad degree is in cognitive science. I’m interested in the biases people have in their decision making. There’s a lot of research on that.
Q – So, the campaign was a lab experiment?
A – Ha. No.
Q – Anything else you want to say directly to Hatters.
A- I really want to express my thanks to the people who’ve supported me. It’s been a really incredible experience.
Q – How much was being positive a factor in the win?
A – I’m not sure. I just tried to be myself. I think, personally, I’m attracted and drawn to people who have a positive outlook on life. Not ‘rose-coloured glasses’, but someone who recognizes that despite our differences that we can all still be respectful and caring towards each other.