Hats off to the People of the Hat

Posted by on Apr 17, 2012 in Blog, News

Everyone should run for public office. It’s a wonderful opportunity to get out and meet people, to hear and hopefully to listen to their concerns and their ambitions. Last Thursday I was able to spend most of the day in Medicine Hat. There I met people who are trying to increase the Hat’s vitality and diversity. They speak and act the language of empowerment.

At Inspire Café and Studio I met Alison, Sadie, Leah, Paul, Rob, Abe, Joy, and Avril (Avril – thanks for the coffee!) and later Maureen, Inspire’s owner. Inspire breathes new life into a Medicine Hat historic treasure – the Hargrave Sissons Block and Grocery Warehouse Addition. The Block takes its name from James Hargrave and Daniel Sisson, the prominent merchants who built the brick building in 1901. They had first started selling their wares from a tent when the railway arrived in the Hat in the early 1880s.

Inspire is part of the City’s Downtown Redevelopment initiative, an admirable effort to restore the vibrancy in the City’s core that so many of its magnificent brick buildings deserve. Inspire, by offering great food, art, and live music, offers a perfect setting for people in Medicine Hat to connect with each other. I hope that on my next visit I’ll see others following in the pioneering footsteps Maureen and others are taking.

Paul volunteered to show me around town and our next stop was Stu Moore Clothiers. Worries that Paul thought I needed a wardrobe makeover were set aside when Paul told me that Steve Moore, who owns the store his father started 46 years ago, was a Medicine Hat pioneer – a solar pioneer.

Steve became the City’s “Hat Smart” program’s first commercial solar energy project. He’s installed a 10 KW solar electricity system on his store. He’s taking advantage of the fact Medicine Hat is the sunniest city in Canada to make a very significant reduction in one of his costs of doing business. And, as he made very clear to me, he’s thrilled to me making a positive contribution to HIS community.

Other aspects of the Hat Smart program encourage renovations and upgrades to increase energy efficiency. As David Dodge’s video points out (www.greenenergyfutures.ca/episode/pilot/medicine-hats-smart-energy-revolution), this City-supported program injected $1 million into local businesses.

That the Harper government would kill the federal equivalent of Medicine Hat’s program is another testament to the shortsightedness of the Harper brand of conservatism (see Senator Elaine McCoy’s reaction to the Harper government’s decision at www.albertasenator.ca/hullabaloos/?article&569).

My last stop was to Medalta, the heart of the Historic Clay District and a National Historic Site. Perhaps you knew that Medalta made pottery and that the clay products industry (including brick making) helped make Medicine Hat thrive. I didn’t. Barry Finkelman, Medalta’s Executive Director/General Manager, took me on a tour through much of the recently renovated museum. It was amazing. Historic film footage makes your muscles ache as you watch the men and women from a hundred years ago turn Medicine Hat’s abundant clay into must-have crock ware. You feel their devotion and their efforts as you walk among the displays showcasing the original machinery (some of it still working today) of Medalta Potteries.

The federal government, to its credit, gave an important boost to Medalta’s fabulous renovations through the Economic Action Plan. But, when one hand of Ottawa does good, the other hand just can’t seem to wait to take it away. There are nearly 1,000 national historic sites in Canada and more than 80 percent them, like Medalta, are run privately. The Friends of Medalta Society offers crucial support and so too do members of the Alberta business community such as the Shaw family. Last month’s federal budget announced that the Parks Canada budget will be cut by $29.2 million over the next three years. I doubt this will be good news for national historic sites such as Medalta.

Even in what look like promising budget announcements “smaller” national historic sites like Medalta get left behind. The federal budget announced it would be supporting major exhibitions in Canadian museums and galleries by “modernizing” a traveling exhibitions program. This is good news indeed — if you are a major museum in a major metropolitan area. National historic sites in smaller locales like Medalta, and the crucial stories they tell, will not benefit. Their messages may be major, but their messengers aren’t according to the federal budget’s logic.

As has been the case throughout this campaign my trip to Medicine Hat opened my eyes to a richness and a diversity in Alberta I had not appreciated before. It opened my eyes to the efforts local governments and communities are doing to empower their citizens and to enrich their lives.

I hope you’ll consider supporting this independent Albertan in the Senate nominee election on April 23rd so I can represent this outlook, determination, and optimism in the Canadian Senate.