Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/9/2015 (1550 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In the space of a few hours, the federal election race in Manitoba’s smallest riding went from being vaguely interesting — you know, like a new fall network-TV offering — to must-watch, Netflix-worthy drama.
Winnipeg Centre, home to some of the most impoverished postal codes in Canada, is blessed with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to federal candidates. Unfortunately for the riding’s voters, this comes in the form of the colourful characters vying for office, not the ideas they’re espousing.
There’s a foul-mouthed NDP incumbent who has no discernible form of impulse control. There’s a Liberal with a messiah complex, a Green who came to fame as "the singing bus driver of city hall" and an un-reconstituted Communist.
There’s also a Tory who skips a public forum and then invites voters to ask her anything. If you reside in Winnipeg Centre, you may be forgiven for wishing you lived somewhere else — as two of the best-known candidates do.
Neither the NDP’s Pat Martin, who’s represented the riding since 1997, nor Liberal Robert-Falcon Ouellette, live in Winnipeg Centre.
Martin lives in Osborne Village, across the Assiniboine River from his riding. For years, he’s been combating accusations he lives a lot farther away, on British Columbia’s Saltspring Island.
Stung by the frequency of these claims, Martin actually threatened to sue anyone who pegged his address far from the Peg. This led Ouellette’s camp to issue a sarcastic press release on Wednesday, citing references to Martin’s alleged B.C. residence in a disingenuous effort to uphold the incumbent’s assertion he does in fact live in Manitoba.
Ouellette’s well-written missive was hilarious. It also amounted to hypocritical gutter tactics, given the former mayoral candidate’s promises to be a different sort of politician.
Ouellette also happens to live in South St. Vital, a few blocks north of the Perimeter Highway, in a quiet suburban enclave that bears little resemblance to any of grid-patterned streets of Winnipeg Centre.
So why would Ouellette, who lives closer to the ex-urban commuter village of Île des Chênes than he does to centre of Winnipeg, draw so much attention to Martin’s own residence outside the riding? The answer has everything to do with timing.
Wednesday’s press release went into wide circulation a few hours before a Winnipeg Centre all-candidates forum. If Ouellete was trying to push the infamously volatile Martin off his game, the tactic worked.
Martin is renowned for his inability to contain himself in all manner of places, including interviews, the House of Commons and on social media.
Martin has called the City of Winnipeg "retarded." He called a Conservative senator an "asshole" and referred to fellow parliamentarians as "rat-faced whores."
At Wednesday night’s forum, he called Green candidate Don Woodstock a "son of a bitch." Woodstock also accused Martin of elbowing him in the ribs and has demanded an apology.
What did Woodstock do to deserve the alleged treatment? For starters, he taunted both Martin and Ouellette by welcoming them to Winnipeg Centre.
This is cute, considering Woodstock ran for municipal office last year in St. Charles, where he doesn’t live, and was once accused of providing a false address for a 2011 provincial run as a Liberal.
Woodstock, a bus driver, is also known for showing up at city hall and serenading executive policy committee. But that doesn’t make him the most curious candidate in Winnipeg Centre.
That distinction may belong to Ouellette, who began the 2015 campaign by breathlessly comparing himself to martyred Manitoba founder Louis Riel and his run for office to the Red River Resistance, the 1869-70 Manitoba Métis fight for self-determination. Changing the historical context on Wednesday, Ouellette said late CCF leader Tommy Douglas would have voted for him. To recap, that makes three references at the all-candidates forum to people who can’t vote in Winnipeg Centre: Pat Martin, Robert-Falcon Ouellette and Tommy Douglas.
So who else is running in Winnipeg Centre? There’s a Communist, Darrell Rankin. There’s also a Conservative, Allie Szarkiewicz, who chose not to attend Wednesday’s forum.
On Thursday morning, the Free Press ran a Szarkiewicz banner ad, inviting voters to ask her a question. "Why didn’t you attend the forum?" was a popular Twitter response.
For the sake of full disclosure, I live in Winnipeg Centre. If this race were a TV show, it’d be called A Loose Cannon, Two Hypocrites, a Coward and a Commie.