As the list of declared candidates hoping to become Winnipeg’s next mayor has swelled to 14 with nearly three months to go until election day, the city’s diverse and growing immigrant population is being aggressively courted and is likely to play a pivotal role at the finish line.
City Coun. Scott Gillingham (St. James) has the support of Deputy Mayor Markus Chambers, a second-generation immigrant from Jamaica.
“It took until 2018 for a Black man to have a seat on Winnipeg’s city council, and I think that is too long a time,” Gillingham said, referring to Chambers (St. Norbert–Seine River).
Gillingham, who met with members of the city’s African and Caribbean communities last month, said he has a 10-point plan to address the challenges faced by new Canadians and “bring them to the table.”
The plan, short on details, includes help for recent immigrants to purchase homes.
Leaning on immigrant roots
Former Manitoba Liberal leader Rana Bokhari is leaning heavily on her immigrant roots by highlighting the advocacy she has done in her Winnipeg law firm.
“We specialize in helping Indigenous peoples and marginalized communities wade through complicated and barrier-rich legal processes,” she said.
Born in Winnipeg to a Pakistani family, Bokhari said she wants to focus on making everyone feel welcome in a city where there is institutional racism.
“What I am doing different in this campaign is really just being my true, authentic self; being true to who I am as a woman, as a Pakistani woman, as a Muslim woman in the city,” she said.
Former mayor Glen Murray, who left the city to fulfil bigger political aspirations in Ontario halfway through his second term in 2004, is the current front-runner to occupy the chair again, a Probe Research poll released late last month revealed.
Murray was the likely choice of 44 per cent of the more than 600 respondents in the survey, followed by Gillingham at 16 per cent and former Winnipeg Centre Liberal MP Robert-Falcon Ouellette, at 13 per cent.
Murray, who was elected mayor in 1998, has promised to reinstate the Winnipeg Private Refugee Sponsorship Assurance Program, which helped more than 18,000 people fleeing violence elsewhere in the world settle in the city between 2003 and 2011.
“Right now, we need to build our labour pool,” he said in a statement. “And a program like this will help meet that need.”
The program launched in 2002 under an agreement signed by the city, province and federal governments.
Immigration in Manitoba grew annually from about 6,000 in 2003 to more than 16,000 by 2011, driven, in large part, by Winnipeg’s successful experiment.
Jennifer Motkaluk, born and raised in the city’s North End, is taking a second run at becoming mayor after finishing second behind Brian Bowman in the 2018 campaign. Bowman is not seeking a third term.
Motkaluk, the granddaughter of a Ukrainian refugee, has plenty of support from a large community whose opposition to the ongoing, devastating war with Russia affecting family and friends is growing louder as the conflict drags on in its seventh month.
Small-business owner Rick Shone is hoping to gain support from the city’s visible minority communities by promising to make funding programs for Indigenous and immigrant residents more accessible.
Jamaican-born Don Woodstock, who finished fourth in the 2018 mayoral race, said he intends to boost the city’s revenues through immigration.
Woodstock, a real estate lawyer who grew up in Jamaica and worked as a Winnipeg Transit driver, said other cities have improved their finances by attracting newcomers.
“Like Vancouver did, but we will cap it at five years,” he said. “We offer incentives to people who are able to buy a home here in Winnipeg. We will help fast-track their immigration status.
“This could generate revenue from 100 immigrant families of $40 million into our economy. Think of the increased tax base, as well. If we stay on this path, we should have a minimum of $60 million to $70 million of new revenue coming into the city.”
Woodstock previously contested as a Liberal candidate in the 2007 and 2011 provincial elections. He also ran as a Green party candidate in the 2015 federal and 2016 provincial elections.
Other candidates include Charleswood-Tuxedo-Westwood city councillor Kevin Klein, Shaun Loney, Jessica Peebles, Desmond Thomas, Chris Clacio, Govind Thawani and Idris Adelakun.
This story was written for the Reader Bridge as part of a partnership with Winnipeg Free Press.
Emmanuel Nwaneri is a journalist with about 27 years of writing, travel and journalism experience in Nigeria, South Africa and Australia. He moved to Johannesburg in South Africa where he spent 10 years as a writer, journalism tutor and commentator. His time in South Africa afforded him the chance to observe the fast-changing dynamics of a country popularly-known as “a rainbow nation." He relocated to Winnipeg with his family in 2018 where he has since found interest in the Customer Service industry. He has published Once Upon A Woman and is working on a second work of fiction.