Former Transcona councillor Russ Wyatt to seek old job at city hall

Former Transcona city councillor Russ Wyatt says he wants to reclaim his former seat, four years after he stepped away from city hall.

Says he's recovered from addictions and regrets not having day in court to fight sexual assault charge

Russ Wyatt smiles and holds up two fists.
Former Transcona councillor Russ Wyatt is ready to slug it out again in civic politics. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

Former Transcona city councillor Russ Wyatt says he wants to reclaim his former seat four years after he stepped away from city hall.

The 52-year-old former councillor said he was gearing up for a mayoral run but chose to take another stab at his old seat because he wants to spend more time with his 15-year-old son, something that would be difficult as a mayor who is also a single dad.

"From what I've read about parenting and what I know is it seems that it's important, I think, for a father to be in a son's life at his age," Wyatt said Wednesday during an interview on the balcony of his apartment in Transcona.

Wyatt spent 16 years at city hall, representing Transcona from 2002 until 2018. Nine months before the end of his fourth and final term, he went on medical leave to seek treatment for addictions.

In July 2018, he was charged with sexually assaulting a woman he knew. That charge was stayed in 2019.

Wyatt said he regrets he didn't have his day in court to clear his name.

"I was not guilty and I was innocent. But I can tell you right now that I was struggling," he said, referring to addictions and other mental-health issues he attributes to his struggles with his sexuality when he was "a closeted gay man."

He announced his bisexuality during Pride Winnipeg in 2018.

"For all of my adult life and since puberty, basically I was struggling with depression and coping with substances. I'm free of those now," he said.

"When I look back on it, what was I doing wasting my time with those people, places and things? But I was coping the best way I could."

Wyatt, with his dog Tessa, says he's recovered from addictions. (Bartley Kives/CBC)

Wyatt said after he left city hall, he took a job as a Winnipeg Transit driver but didn't work a single day. He wound up getting hired by Santa Fe Developments, a Winnipeg property developer.

He said he wants to represent his old ward again because he claims Transcona Coun. Shawn Nason has not been able to push for projects such as the Transcona Trail, a new indoor recreation centre in east Winnipeg and the construction of the Ed Schreyer Parkway, a regional road that would connect Chief Peguis Trail to Bishop Grandin Boulevard.

"Coun. Nason's a nice guy, but we need an elected representative who's focused and a strong voice for the community," Wyatt said. "We've been missing out on some very major funding projects."

Wyatt's successor said his efforts to get the trail and recreation centre completed have been impossible under Brian Bowman, the city's outgoing mayor. 

Nason called the Ed Schreyer Parkway, however, a "useless" roadway that should be scrapped from the city's plans.

He also said he found it interesting Wyatt "suddenly wants to come back to council" after four years away.

"I guess stranger things have happened in life. We have a former mayor that's wanting to come back again after trying lots of other different things," he said, referring to former Winnipeg mayor Glen Murray, who resigned halfway through his second term and is now vying to reclaim his old job.

Wyatt said he intends to register his campaign on Thursday. Nason and Steve Lipischak, who finished fourth in  Transcona in 2018, have already registered.

"I'm running against an incumbent and I hope that people support me," Wyatt said. "I think we as a community have worked well together in the past."


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.