Mayoral candidates debate priorities on Indigenous issues
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Ten candidates vying to become the city’s next mayor debated Indigenous issues Saturday, making their final push for support with just three days left before Winnipeggers head to the polls.
The mayoral forum, which was organized by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs in collaboration with Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, was held at the Wyndham Garden Winnipeg Airport hotel owned by Long Plain First Nation.
Various subjects including the economy, reconciliation, housing, addictions and homelessness were debated by the mayoral hopefuls.
The perceived frontrunners were in attendance, including former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray, two-term city councillor Scott Gillingham (St. James), one-term city councillor Kevin Klein (Charleswood-Tuxedo), and dark horse candidate Shaun Loney.
Other candidates who participated in the forum were Rana Bokhari, the former leader of the Liberal Party of Manitoba, Robert-Falcon Ouellette, a former Liberal MP for Winnipeg Centre, and businessman Rick Shone.
Candidates Don Woodstock, a local businessman and frequent candidate in Manitoba elections, Chris Clacio and Idris Adelakun were also in attendance. The only candidate missing was Jenny Motkaluk, who unsuccessfully ran for mayor during the 2018 municipal election.
After an opening prayer from an Indigenous elder and remarks from several First Nations leaders, the forum got underway, which ran for about two and a half hours. The forum utilized a question-and-answer format, with each candidate getting two minutes per response — a time limit strictly enforced by moderator Rosanna Deerchild, a Cree writer and radio host.
Gillingham said he would prioritize Indigenous-led economic development, adding he wants to see more partnerships created to help connect Indigenous peoples looking for work with vacant jobs across multiple sectors.
Gillingham, who has served as the chairman of the city’s finance committee, also pointed to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 calls to action, committing to implement the nine that involve municipal governments.
Murray said the city has made bad investments with its limited fiscal resources in recent years, in large part because First Nations communities have not been at the table or involved in decision-making processes.
He promised to change that and said that if elected, his first day on the job would be a “day of listening,” where he would sit down with First Nations constituents, answer their questions, and learn more about how city hall can address their needs and struggles.
Klein applauded the existence of the joint AMC-MKO mayoral forum, saying it represented an important step forward when it came to the city addressing Indigenous issues, and added that he would create the position of “Indigenous Economic Development Officer” at city hall.
On the topic of crime, Klein also vowed to crack down on street gangs, which he said were preying upon vulnerable youth in the community.
Loney touted the importance of social enterprise initiatives to his campaign platform. He pointed to his “reconciliation action plan,” and said that under his leadership, city hall would make significant strides in addressing addictions and homelessness in Winnipeg.
Bokhari promised that Portage Place would not be handed over to private developers, and that its future would be decided by First Nations peoples. She pointed to the Southern Chiefs’ Organization’s ownership of The Bay downtown as an example to follow.
She also said that Winnipeg must create a safe consumption site to address addiction, arguing she was the only candidate with “the guts” to talk openly about reducing the budget of the Winnipeg Police Service and reallocating those funds to community-based services.
Ouellette said it was time for a “generational change” in leadership at city hall and pointed to his experience as a federal MP, which has prepared him for the role of mayor.
He also promised a “comprehensive plan” to tackle issues surrounding addictions, mental health and homelessness, working not just with Indigenous leaders, but also federal counterparts. He added that if Ottawa won’t help pay for these initiatives, we must do so ourselves as a city.
Shone promised to tax property owners who allow their properties to sit vacant, saying these spaces are needed to tackle Winnipeg’s homeless crisis. He said municipal politicians need to stop pointing the finger at other levels of government and take action.
He also said he would expand the mayor’s Indigenous advisory council, prioritize the establishment of urban reserves, and provide support to the Indigenous Chamber of Commerce.
Woodstock said he would have a “staffing mandate” to ensure that Indigenous peoples are properly reflected in the city’s workforce.
A Leger poll commissioned by Gillingham earlier this month found 28 per cent of decided voters would vote for Murray, while 19 per cent would support Gillingham. It also found 14 per cent would pick Klein while 13 per cent would cast ballots for Loney.
Winnipeggers head to the polls Wednesday to elect a new mayor and council.
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.
Updated on Sunday, October 23, 2022 9:07 AM CDT: Typo fixed