A man for all regions? Critics suggested Scott Gillingham would focus on suburban needs, ignoring the core’s many problems; the city’s new mayor insists that won’t be the case

Last April, months before he put his political career on the line to run for mayor of Winnipeg, then-Coun. Scott Gillingham spent several mornings on patrol with Winnipeg Transit inspectors visiting people living in bus shelters. He wanted to see what was going on to get a better handle on how the city might be able to help get them into more appropriate shelter.

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Opinion

Last April, months before he put his political career on the line to run for mayor of Winnipeg, then-Coun. Scott Gillingham spent several mornings on patrol with Winnipeg Transit inspectors visiting people living in bus shelters. He wanted to see what was going on to get a better handle on how the city might be able to help get them into more appropriate shelter.

One of these very early mornings, when Gillingham and the inspectors arrived at a shelter, they found a man unconscious from a drug overdose. A 911 operator instructed the inspector to begin chest compressions until an ambulance could be dispatched.

Gillingham said he stood back and watched as more than a dozen city employees — police, firefighter paramedics, ambulance attendants and transit staff — worked diligently to save the man’s life.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES

“We have to build the city as a whole,” Mayor Scott Gillingham said.

It was an experience that helped galvanize a vision Gillingham would carry into the fall election: his future as the city’s mayor would largely be determined by his ability to find a dedicated strategy to tackle the challenges of the city’s core.

“We have to build the city as a whole.”

Whether he is able to do that — balance the social needs of the core against the relentless infrastructure demands of the suburbs — remains to be seen. But in a wide-ranging interview for the Free Press Niigaan and the Lone Ranger podcast, Winnipeg’s 44th mayor said he is up for the challenge. (Niigaan and the Lone Ranger is available on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PodcastsAmazon Music, and iHeartRadio.)

It may come as a surprise to some of the people who voted for him that, when asked for three main goals for his first year in office, Gillingham did not identify a billion-dollar funding deal with the province and federal government to complete the Chief Peguis Trail extension and the widening of Kenaston Boulevard, his marquee pledges.

Instead, Gillingham said he wants to encourage more people to live downtown, reduce the number of people living on the streets and, if possible, reduce the amount of violent crime.

“It needs to be a safer city,” he said. “It’s troubling to me that we’re at a record number of homicides in the city this year. That needs to start to move in the other direction.”

Now, just a month into his four-year term, Gillingham said he’s still trying to recover from a raucous mayoral campaign that saw him come from behind to beat former mayor Glen Murray. He said election night was particularly stressful, given that at one point in the evening, one television station had declared Murray the winner.

JESSICA LEE / FREE PRESS FILES

Gillingham said he wants to encourage more people to live downtown, reduce the number of people living on the streets and, if possible, reduce the amount of violent crime.

“I got a little bit deflated. But my campaign manager came into the room a few minutes later and said, ‘Now, hold on. I don’t know what that station’s doing. We have other information coming in.’”

Gillingham said the early results, which gave Murray a significant lead at times, were not representative of the overall vote.

“We knew we were stronger in the suburbs,” he said. “And that’s where we had to appeal, to the suburbs, in order to win this race. So, we took some comfort in that.”

The comfort was not misplaced. As those suburban results started to arrive, he overtook Murray and never looked back.

He acknowledged that low voter turnout — only 37 per cent of registered voters participated in the mayoral election — remains a source of concern.

“Let’s be honest, for those of us who love democracy, the low voter turnout was disappointing,” he said.

In some ways, Gillingham is an odd fit for the job. Growing up on a farm near Carman, he had a successful career as a player in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. His original vocation was as a pastor in the Pentecostal Church, where he served in various capacities for more than 22 years.

In 2014, he left his ministry behind and got elected to city council. In the eight years since he was first elected, Gillingham said he has tried to grow to embrace a broader and more contemporary view of society.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / FREE PRESS FILES

Gillingham acknowledged that low voter turnout remains a source of concern.

Early in the campaign, news stories focused heavily on work as a pastor and, in particular, the Pentecostal Church’s rejection and condemnation of homosexuality and same-sex relationships. Gillingham said that while he did, at one time, agree with that stance, he began to embrace a different view of LGBTTQ+ issues before leaving the church.

“Look, we live in a nation where we value human rights,” he said. “And that people… should be treated equally. And in Canada, civil marriage is defined by the government and guarantees that people of all sexual orientations should have the right to marry. And so, I agree with that. We need to make sure in this society that we’re treating everyone equally and fairly to the degree we can.”

Going forward, the mayor said he hopes to win the trust of Winnipeggers and show them that he does not — as some critics have suggested — see the city as simply a collection of suburbs located around a decaying core.

“I need to be, I will be a mayor for all of Winnipeg, from the core area of the city to the furthest suburbs. Each area has needs and it’s my role, my responsibility to work with others… (so) that all the needs are met.”

dan.lett@winnipegfreepress.com

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

History

Updated on Wednesday, November 30, 2022 7:54 PM CST: Corrects typo to read chest compressions

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