At home with Robert-Falcon Ouellette and his family
At first it comes as a bit of surprise to arrive at Robert-Falcon Ouellette's home in south Winnipeg.
For a man that speaks so passionately about inner-city issues, city planning and transit, it seems a bit out of character to arrive at the suburban house in the neat subdivision he shares with his wife, Catherine Cantin, and their five — yes, that's five — kids.
But the family arrived from Quebec City four years ago and Catherine had been bombarded before the move by media reports about "Murder-Peg" and the crime-ridden streets of their soon-to-be-home.
They needed a place to house all seven members of the family and a place relatively close to Ouellette's new job at the University of Manitoba, close to good schools that taught French for the kids — and a place that's safe.
"In Quebec City, there is one murder during the year and people are like, 'Oooh, there's one murder!' And they [Winnipeg] were up to like 25 that year."
Cantin says her mind has totally changed on safety in Winnipeg since they arrived.
"I am going downtown tonight to see some friends. I'm not worried, " she said.
The couple plus the kids came to Winnipeg after Ouellette was offered a position at the university as a director of Aboriginal Focus Programs.
Ouellette is Saskatchewan-born but raised in Calgary. He spent 18 years in the military and that's where he met Cantin, while they were both cadets.
There is a modest tornado (it would appear almost constantly) blowing through the Ouellette-Cantin home. Most of the kids sport varying lengths of their father's long hair and there are flowing locks in motion everywhere.
It appears to be a very happy house: one child arrives in front of his dad, proudly bearing a package of mouse traps and a wide grin. The finger-snappers are for an uninvited guest in the garage.
The kids appear to be growing up in a truly bilingual home with a mash of English and French bouncing off the walls.
It's also a cultural home. Cantin's bead and needle work is on the walls and Ouellette points to one piece that took his wife 10 years to make. He promises it would be one of the first things he grabs (after the kids, of course) if the house was on fire.
When pressed, Robert-Falcon and Catherine block out the minor chaos in the living room and after some cajoling, start a piano and tin whistle duet of a folk song.
Tapping on the keys, Ouellette clearly loves music but struggled with a question of favourites — "I don't remember names very well … more the music," he said.
On the classic beat, Beethoven beats out Chopin and Schubert over Brahms for Ouellette.
Pushed on a favourite Manitoba artist, the candidate starts with, "Well, everyone loves The Guess Who … we all love The Guess Who." But ultimately he settles on Loreena McKennitt as a top pick.
The couple admit they go to few concerts but they did score $19 tickets to Paul McCartney last year.
Ouellette may take the lead on playing the music in the house, but he admits he's been slacking when it comes to the domestic chores.
The election, he said, has bitten into his participation in the mundane chores such as cleaning and cooking and even cutting the lawn. Add that to responsibilities at the University of Manitoba, and there is little time left over for meal prep, he added.
But pop open the fridge and it's clear no one is suffering. There are the beginnings and leftovers of homemade from-scratch meals on the shelves and Ouellette points at Cantin and gives her full credit.
It's an argument to determine if four years grants full-fledged "Winnipegger" status, but Ouellette and brood seemed to have winter warfare worked out.
Ouellette is a long underwear man and even wears overpants on top of his suit when the deep cold hits. He also floods and maintains a classic skating rink on the pond on the foot of his property.
As the interview with the Ouellette-Cantin clan winds down the penultimate Winnipeg question must be asked. And on this one, the self-assured Ouellette hesitates.
Last game you could ever attend: Bombers or Jets?
Ouellette, who clearly thinks a lot about what he says, struggles.
"If I had the time, I'd rather spend the day with my kids," he said, adding that sports matches are expensive and these days he has limited free time.
How about with free tickets? With the kids, the whole family. And popcorn.
"OK, the Jets then," said Ouellette. But he warns that the kids are still young enough they might not make it through the second period.
If the Jets play a similar season to the Bombers this year, that might describe some Winnipeg hockey fans.
Five facts on Robert-Falcon Ouellete
- Plays the sax and piano.
- If his house caught fire, he will grab a grandfather clock that has been in the family since the 1850s.
- Favourite TV shows: Family Guy and The Simpsons.
- Retired from the military as a Petty Officer Second Class and is still in the Naval Reserve.
- Was 17 years old when he started dating wife Catherine (she was 17 as well).
Stances on key election issues
Ouellette is promising dedicated funding for infrastructure, either to finance "smart debt" or ongoing operations and preventive maintenance, and he wants to see innovation and quality to ensure work is done right the first time and it lasts longer.
He proposes a $26-million land value tax on surface parking lots downtown, and $12-million of that would be used to fully finance a fund dedicated to core infrastructure: roads, bridges, water, waste.
Ouellette would cancel the southwest leg of the city's bus rapid transit (BRT) system and replace it in the short term with a Metrobus system, and begin a study to calculate the cost or moving the rail yards and heavy rail traffic out of the city and using the vacated lines for a light rail or commuter rail network.
Taxes, rates, fees and fines
Ouellette says he would raise property taxes only as a last resort, but it's not a promise to freeze them. He says if it's necessary, he would limit a tax increase to the rate of inflation.
He would add an infrastructure tax to property tax bills of people who live outside the city but use Winnipeg's infrastructure and services.
If elected, Ouellette would also force school boards collect their own taxes and hike the hotel accommodation tax from five to seven per cent.
Open data, transparency and accountability
He has been out front on campaign finance reform, publishing the names of his donors on his website. Ouellette says integrity starts with the campaigns and voters should see who is supporting which candidate, well before the vote on Oct. 22.