Winnipeg mayoral candidates lay out plans for reconciliation at First Nations forum

Winnipeg mayoral candidates addressed Manitoba First Nations leaders Saturday, sharing plans for reconciliation, economic partnership and addressing the city’s homelessness and addictions crisis.

'If we want to solve any of these problems, they have to include us in their decision-making': MKO grand chief

Ten of Winnipeg's 11 mayoral candidates shared their plans and pledges for reconciliation at a forum hosted on Saturday by Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak. (Anne-Louise Michel/Radio-Canada)

Winnipeg mayoral candidates addressed Manitoba First Nations leaders on Saturday afternoon, sharing their plans for reconciliation, economic partnership and addressing the city's homelessness and addictions crises.

Ten out of 11 candidates took part in a forum hosted by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak at the Wyndham Garden Winnipeg Airport hotel, which is owned by Long Plain First Nation.

"Reconciliation is all-encompassing, and they need to move in that direction and we want to be part of it. If we want to solve any of these problems, they have to include us in their decision-making," said MKO Grand Chief Garrison Settee, who addressed the candidates before the discussion began.

"Homelessness and addiction are the biggest problems that are visible, and those are things where we really need to put effort. We need to have commitment to put those words into action."

All 10 candidates in attendance committed, in their own way, to partnering with and working alongside First Nations leaders in Manitoba. Jenny Motkaluk, whom AMC denounced after she made comments critical of the organization, did not take part.

Candidates answered questions about housing, harm reduction, treaty relationships, economic development and public safety.

What the candidates said

Robert-Falcon Ouellette committed to getting "our brothers and sisters off the street" by making detox and treatment available for people when they need it. He pledged to lobby the federal government for more funding to extend Jordan's Principle, which ensures equitable access to health care for First Nations children, to all First Nations people, including adults.

Rana Bohkari acknowledged the "systemic, deep-rooted racial issues" that divide the city and create barriers for Indigenous people at every turn. She said if she is elected mayor, AMC and MKO would lead city initiatives, similar to what they had done with COVID-19 vaccine rollout for First Nations members.

Bokhari, along with Ouellette and Shaun Loney, committed to the implementation of a safe consumption site in the city.

Kevin Klein said he would establish an Indigenous council committee that would spearhead discussions on mental health supports, housing and addiction, as well as an economic officer to create business partnerships. He gave an impassioned speech on engaging youth and investing in sport and recreation as part of an anti-gang strategy.

Scott Gillingham, a former finance chair while on city council, pointed to his past eight years of experience in working with Indigenous leaders on various projects. He vowed to adhere to the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action, nine of which specifically pertain to municipal responsibilities.

Gillingham, along with Klein, voted "no" to the idea of a safe injection site in Winnipeg during CBC's mayoral forum on Wednesday. On Saturday, Gillingham committed to "healing partnerships" focusing on detox and access to health services for Indigenous people, as well as support for libraries and city archives to preserve Indigenous languages and other cultural and historical materials.

Glen Murray pointed to his past work as Winnipeg's mayor in establishing Thunderbird House. He promised to listen to Indigenous leaders and vowed to make economic development opportunities more accessible to Indigenous people. He said if elected, he would meet with Indigenous leaders to "answer questions and hear you out."

Chris Clacio and Rick Shone pointed to their past volunteer work with inner-city youth, and Shone said he would start an Indigenous relations office should he become mayor.

Loney also talked about carrying out the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's calls to action and spoke to the importance of creating and valuing more urban reserves.

Idris Alelakun promised to work with various social services agencies, the province and federal government to build 800 housing units.

Don Woodstock said if elected, he would partner with residential school survivor Peter Yellowquill on various initiatives and would respect the human rights of all citizens equally, as well as create more accessible city spaces for children and youth. He also suggested Manitoba could become the world's largest exporter of farmed fish.

'Be ready to work'

"Our Indigenous people are the fastest growing demographic and for the issues to be addressed at this forum is what we wanted to hear — what is their plan, what is their vision for Indigenous peoples — and I think there's been a lot of ideas brought forth," Settee said after the forum.

"Whoever wins, they're going to have to sit down, day one, day two, be ready to work," he added.

"We need to work together because these problems will not go away by themselves."

Saturday's forum was one of the last mayoral forums before Winnipeggers go to the polls for election day on Wednesday.

Adelakun issues plan for seniors, environment

Earlier on Saturday, Adelakun unveiled his plans for the environment and seniors, as well as for reconciliation.

He issued a number of pledges around the environment, such as working quickly on improving the sewage treatment system to prevent raw sewage from being released into Winnipeg rivers and encouraging the use of rain barrels.

With regards to seniors, Adelakun said he would develop a "home sharing strategy" in which university students would live in the homes of elderly residents at reduced rents in exchange for helping the homeowners with chores. He also pledged to reduce property taxes by five per cent for residents age 65 and over.