'It's a great day for Point Douglas': Vivian Santos replaces boss at city hall

Vivian Santos is the new councillor for Winnipeg's Point Douglas, replacing her former boss and long-time ward councillor Mike Pagtakhan.

Steps in with support of Mike Pagtakhan, who held position for 16 years and did not seek re-election

Point Douglas candidate Vivian Santos worked for Mike Pagtakhan, the outgoing councillor for Point Douglas, for three years. She decided to run after Pagtakhan announced he would not seek another term. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Vivian Santos is the new councillor for Winnipeg's Point Douglas, replacing her former boss and long-time ward councillor Mike Pagtakhan.

"I'm still in shock!" she said, laughing, moments after being told about her projected win at her in-laws house.

Santos said she believes she could be the first female Chinese woman councillor in ward history. 

She most recently worked as the executive assistant for Pagtakhan. Before that, the community activist worked on mayor Brian Bowman's 2014 campaign and was his legal assistant for five years.

Vivian Santos and her family cheer after hearing the CBC decision desk's projection that she has won the Point Douglas council seat. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

"By far the best executive assistant I've ever had in my 16 years," Pagtakhan said. 

"This is pretty amazing," he said. "It's a great day for Point Douglas." 

Santos entered the race 12 days after Pagtakhan announced in June he wouldn't seek re-election. Pagtakhan says after 16 years representing the ward, he recently became a member of the Canadian Armed Forces is currently in training. 

Santos praised him as a great teacher and mentor and promised to make him proud.

"Working for councillor Mike these last three years I've gotten to fall in love with the entire neighbourhood and all of Point Douglas," an emotional Santos told a crowd of about 25 supporters at her campaign headquarters on McPhillips Avenue.

"I'm ready to serve the community."

Vivian Santos embraces her husband and campaign manager Jeff after her victory Wednesday night. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

'Learn from the best'

Pagtakhan and Santos are both avid arm-wrestlers with penchants for competitiveness, and she dished out some gentle ribbing to her predecessor from the podium.

"I did learn from the best, so I feel pretty confident that I could be just as good — or even better," she said to cheers from Pagtakhan and others.

"I would expect nothing less than to try and exceed the work that I've done," Pagtakhan replied. "I'll be watching to make sure she does."

Santos thanked her rivals Kate Sjoberg and Winnipeg School Division trustee Dean Koshelanyk and said she hopes to work with them moving forward.

Santos scored a comfortable 57 per cent of the vote (5,327 votes) to Sjoberg's 32 per cent (2,936) and Koshelanyk's 11 per cent (1,022). 

The race was in part focused on poverty reduction in what is one of Winnipeg's poorest neighbourhood.

A Winnipeg Regional Health Authority community profile suggested one-third of Point Douglas residents are low-income, while the median household income in the southern part of the ward was pegged at just under $30,000.

Free transit, new bridge

Santos repeated campaign trail promises after winning, including carrying on a commitment Pagtakhan made to get a new Arlington Bridge built.

She plans to press for free public transit as a means of helping low-income constituents gain better access to jobs.

Santos says reallocating a portion of Winnipeg property tax revenue would help cover free transit, and she suggested starting with a pilot project that gave people free rides on weekends.

"Let's test those waters, because right now our ridership is so low, and if we can increase that ridership and get people to their destination, you're going to see people are going to want to spend money elsewhere," she said.

Santos wants to secure more dollars for upgrading parks and recreational services as a way of keeping local kids out of trouble. To that end, she also plans to form an arm-wrestling program in the Weston-Brookland area of her ward, taking a note from Pagtakhan, who once started a North End boxing club.

Rival promises

She wants to use a portion of her budget to fund local non-profits, such as neighbourhood watch group the Bear Clan Patrol and groups committed to helping newcomers.

Better support for local organizations was also an idea supported by Sjoberg, an educational consultant at Louis Riel School Division who previously worked for the Spence Neighbourhood Association and North Point Douglas Women's Centre.

She said during the campaign that she wanted to reduce bus fares to their rate before council approved a 25 cent jump last December, and proposed siphoning money away from the Winnipeg police budget to help achieve that.

Campaign manager Jeff Santos (left) and former ward councillor Mike Pagtakhan (right) hoist Vivian Santos's arms overheard at her campaign headquarters after her election win. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Koshelanyk, a Winnipeg School Division Ward 9 trustee and third-time Point Douglas council candidate, touted greater job opportunities and access to education as ways to help some lift themselves out of poverty.

Crime, options for youth

Santos also pledged to improve area parks and expand both after-school and recreational programming for youth who might otherwise get sucked into crime.

Her nine-year-old son Easton Santos and five-year-old daughter Summer Santos are both active in sports and music, and she and wants more options for kids like them.

"Get them into something, some sort of activity," she said. "I'm a big believer, if you keep them busy, it keeps them off the street and out of trouble."

When she was door-knocking this summer, Santos heard some constituents who wanted better lighting in alleyways, parkades and parks to help improve safety in some neighbourhoods.

'I can relax now'

Now that the race is over, Santos's husband and campaign manager Jeffrey Santos says he feels relieved.

Vivian and Jeffrey Santos. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

"I can relax now," he joked. "I have full faith that she is going to do great work in Point Douglas."

Santos said she can't wait to hit the ground running.

 "I am just dying to work," the newly minted councillor said.

With files from Laura Glowacki, Bartley Kives and Hannah Owczar.


Bryce Hoye


Bryce Hoye is a multi-platform Manitoba journalist covering news, science, justice, health, 2SLGBTQ issues and other community stories. He has a background in wildlife biology and occasionally works for CBC's Quirks & Quarks and Front Burner. He won a national Radio Television Digital News Association award for a 2017 feature on the history of the fur trade. He is also Prairie rep for outCBC.


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