Volunteer vetting process enters campaign discussion
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A political consultant who made racist comments about Indigenous people and opposed COVID-19 mandates is involved in Glen Murray’s Winnipeg mayoral bid, raising questions about vetting by campaigns.
Murray said Braydon Mazurkiewich is volunteering for him, and he is aware of Mazurkiewich’s past Facebook comments.
“I had heard about it, yes. I don’t know too much about his history, but I had heard about that, yes,” Murray said in a phone interview Thursday, adding he doesn’t know Mazurkiewich “that well.”
In 2012, Mazurkiewich was forced to quit as president of the Manitoba Progressive Conservative party’s youth wing, after complaining about a planned urban reserve at the former Kapyong barracks site.
In response to a comment, he wrote the land in the Tuxedo and South neighbourhoods “was built for hardworking men and women of the military, not freeloading Indians,” the Free Press reported at the time.
He also wrote about the site: “Well, maybe we’ll have access to cheap cigarettes?”
‘Truly sorry’ for comments
On Thursday, Mazurkiewich told the Free Press he was “young and immature” then, and no longer holds the same views.
“Today, I look back and cringe at the things I said and sadly believed in my early 20s. I am embarrassed by them, but I am also thankful for the chance I was given to learn, expand my horizons, and change my mind,” he wrote in an email.
“I once again apologize and am truly sorry for my previous comments and the hurt they caused. They were wrong, they were racist, they were harmful, and they are no longer what I believe.”
Mazurkiewich said he has been mentored by some Indigenous leaders. He declined to comment further when contacted by phone.
Tweets on convoy, ‘China virus’
Posts on his Twitter account from the last 12 months criticized face mask and proof of vaccination mandates, referred to COVID-19 as the “China virus,” and cited the Omicron variant as a “cold.”
Some tweets contained a baseless conspiracy theory linking coronavirus and the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg.
Mazurkiewich wrote he has received multiple doses of a vaccine.
While supporting the so-called “freedom convoy,” he expressed the typical anti-Justin Trudeau sentiment associated with the protests.
In response to a Jan. 3 tweet expressing anxiety over the potential COVID-19 confirmed case and death totals that day, a reply from Mazurkiewich’s account stated: “The higher the better! The sooner everyone gets it the sooner we can have our lives back.”
Manitoba reported 5,411 new cases and six deaths that afternoon, amid an Omicron-fuelled winter wave.
Murray, who was Winnipeg mayor from 1998 to 2004, said he wasn’t aware of the COVID-related posts.
A spokeswoman said Murray doesn’t share Mazurkiewich’s views.
Campaign support raises eyebrows
Murray said Mazurkiewich is doing “general volunteer stuff” on his campaign. “I think he came to the campaign because he’s worked on a number of other campaigns with some of the other people working on the campaign.”
Last year, Mazurkiewich was involved in former Tory MP Shelly Glover’s failed bid to become provincial PC leader. He supported Pierre Poilievre’s successful run for leader of the federal Conservatives.
His involvement on left-leaning Murray’s campaign has raised some eyebrows.
Mazurkiewich tweeted Thursday he’s been “accosted” by his conservative friends for three months while “working on” Murray’s campaign.
Photos on his social media pages show him posing with Murray at Nuit Blanche on Sept. 24, and standing at a podium inside the candidate’s downtown campaign office.
His Instagram page describes himself as a political and marketing consultant.
Murray said there is no formal process to vet volunteers for his campaign.
“It’s pretty much… pitch in, and people come in and they work the phones and stuff like that,” he said.
Similar approach on other campaigns
Other mayoral candidates take a similar approach.
In August, Don Woodstock defended his decision to allow Patrick Allard to volunteer for his campaign, telling the Free Press he supports Allard’s right to protest and accepted him, as long as “he keeps his rhetoric out of my campaign.”
Allard, a vocal opponent of COVID-19 public health orders, was recently fined $34,000 for violating restrictions.
On Thursday, Woodstock said he asks questions of those who want to volunteer or donate money to his mayoral bid.
“As best as we can, people are going to fall through the cracks,” he said. “We’re not going to do a deep dive on everybody.”
Candidates Kevin Klein and Shaun Loney, and a spokesman for Scott Gillingham, all said they had no similar issues with their volunteers.
Loney said he requires volunteers in “key” positions to read and agree to a human resources-style document, which includes a respectful work environment policy.
Klein said people in his inner circle are “very well-vetted.” Other volunteers are required to fill out a form and answer questions about any affiliations, he said. “We don’t get into detail like a job interview, because it can be invasive.”
In response to an interview request about vetting, Gillingham’s team put up his campaign manager, Luc Lewandowski, for comment. He said candidates usually accept a volunteer’s offer on “face value,” while vetting tends to take place at higher levels of involvement.
Compared to federal and provincial campaigns, there is less vetting at the municipal level, said Christopher Adams, an adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba.
Without a political party system, municipal candidates are “on their own.”
They scramble to get an organization up and running and find help, and they have limited time and only so many people to oversee volunteers, said Adams.
As a general assignment reporter, Chris covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.
Updated on Friday, October 21, 2022 6:25 PM CDT: Adds photos.