The man who swept into Winnipeg’s mayoral race and earned votes through a grassroots campaign and frank discussion of the city’s inequity is now running federally for the Liberal Party of Canada in Winnipeg Centre.
Robert-Falcon Ouellette was nominated by acclamation to represent the riding for the Liberals on Sat., Feb. 21 at the Broadway Neighbourhood Centre. Close to 60 people were in attendance at the nomination meeting.
In the recent civic election, Ouellette finished third in the mayoral race, garnering 36,823 votes and winning 13 polls within the Winnipeg Centre area.
Making the switch from civic to federal politics was a prudent and timely decision, Ouellette says.
“Obviously municipally I didn’t win the election, and I think logically if I want to make a difference the time would be now, and to use the political capital that I’ve built up to use that to the benefit of more people,” he says.
“I understand that the people have chosen Brian Bowman and I think he’s going to be a great mayor, and I would like to be able to sit in Parliament and make sure that he has all the tools he needs to make the City of Winnipeg a really successful place.”
Ouellette says he has a number of concerns he hopes to address in the riding if elected. The number one item on his agenda at the moment is child poverty and socio-economic disparity and mobility.
“We live, we all know in a divided city, a divided country not simply based on race but on opportunity of mobility,” Ouellette said during his speech. “Winnipeg has some of the highest rates of child poverty in Canada. We also have the lowest rates of educational achievement in the industrialized world.”
According to the University of Manitoba Aboriginal Focus program director, Navy musician and father of five, the riding of Winnipeg Centre is the best place to address issues of poverty in the city.
“I think it’s going to be here that we are going to find those solutions and I think we need a leader of this riding, in this community who can go about promoting those changes in the long term,” Ouellette says.
Before Ouellette can take that leadership role in Parliament, he’ll have to wrestle away votes from constituents who have consistently voted current WInnipeg Centre MP Pat Martin to Ottawa. Martin has held the seat since 1997 when the riding was created.
Winnipeg Centre resident Jane Meagher says the race between Martin and Ouellette will be a very interesting one to watch with Ouellette bringing diversity to the changing area.
“Winnipeg Centre has always been an NDP riding, no ifs, ands or buts. The thing with this particular riding, and I’ve lived here 14 years, is I’ve seen tremendous change of people coming and going,” Meagher says. “I think what Robert brings to the table is a really broad lived experience that represents everyone who lives in the area. From the very poor, to the First Nations who come from the reserves, to the academic, and the middle class.”
Ouellette will be starting his race with a door knocking campaign and expects to be very busy in the coming months. Though he wouldn’t say he is confident he can take the riding, Ouellette says there is a good chance change will come.
“We know we have a really good chance of winning this riding and it would be a disappointment if I wasn’t sitting in the House of Commons this October.”
The federal election is tentatively scheduled for Oct. 19, 2015.
Published in Volume 69, Number 22 of The Uniter (February 25, 2015)