For one longtime Winnipeg School Division trustee, changes to the administration of public education in Manitoba has inspired a jump to provincial politics.
Mark Wasyliw, who has served as trustee with the Winnipeg School Division since 2011, is running for MLA with the Manitoba New Democratic Party in Fort Garry.
"I’ve seen first-hand the Pallister government’s cuts to the school system and how class sizes are ballooning, and cuts to special needs education have hurt a lot of students," Wasyliw said. "I got involved in this because I wanted to be a knowledgeable voice about public education and advocate for public education at the provincial level."
Wasyliw was most recently acclaimed as school trustee in Ward 3 during the 2018 municipal election and said he’s cognizant of criticisms of vacating one elected position for another before his mandate is complete. Wasyliw, if not successful in his campaign, can return to his position as school trustee after the provincial election.
"The problem is as a school trustee, the provincial government has basically taken away our power of taxation. The role of school trustees right now is to sit around a table and figure out what we’re going to cut next," he said. "In order to be effective in fighting for public education, I felt I had no choice under these really difficult circumstances to become an MLA."
Wasyliw, 47, has been involved with the provincial NDP for about two decades and previously ran as a federal candidate in Winnipeg South Centre in 2006. He has a master’s degree in political science and criminal law and was called to the bar in 2000. He currently practises at Bueti Wasyliw Wiebe where he is a founding partner. The firm focuses on criminal defence and Wasyliw also volunteers his time with Innocence Canada (formerly known as the Association in Defence of the Wrongfully Convicted).
Following the 2018 Electoral Boundaries Commission, the former riding of Fort Garry-Riverview was done away with and the new Fort Garry constituency was created. The new riding includes the neighbourhood of Earl Grey, north of Grant Avenue, parts of Grant Park, Beaumont, Wildwood, Maybank, Chevrier, and Southwood. In the past, most of the constituency was represented NDP MLA James Allum, who is not seeking reelection.
Wasyliw, who lives in Crescentwood, said the variety of issues he’s hearing from voters at the doorstep is endless — everything from access to child care, to affordable tuition, senior housing, gentrification, addictions and the methamphetamine crisis, and accessible health care.
Of the NDP’s platform promises, Wasyliw said he’s most enthusiastic about the "green jobs strategy," bringing daycare under the education banner, and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
The conversion of the emergency room at Victoria Hospital into urgent care has also been a sore spot for folks in Fort Garry, Wasyliw said, and though he was opposed to the closure and said emergency medical services are needed in south Winnipeg, he understands why the NDP is not committing to reopening the facility.
"It’s not something you can flip the switch and just reverse," he said. "We’re hearing from professionals in this area that we would probably make things worse if we tried to reopen it or reverse the decision.
"I live in the real world and as disappointing as this decision is, what I’ve been pushing my party to do is address the accessibility issue for health care in south Winnipeg," he said, referencing the NDP promise to add Sunday hours at Access Fort Garry and fund at least one doctor, two nurses, a nurse practitioner, mental health counsellor, and two primary care assistants on weekends.
"It’s not perfect but it’s a start to try to fix the accessibility problem," Wasyliw said.
Also running in Fort Garry are PC candidate Nancy Cooke, Manitoba Liberal Party candidate Craig Larkins, and Green Party of Manitoba candidate Casey Fennessy, who did not respond to a request for an interview. The provincial election is Sept. 10.
Danielle Da Silva