The federal election battle for Winnipeg Centre revolves around drugs and child poverty

Two high profile First Nations candidates are the front runners to take on one of Winnipeg’s most publicized riding in this year’s federal election.

Winnipeg Centre is home to 85,000 people.

The riding stretches from the city’s West End to downtown, and is sandwiched between the Canadian Pacific Railway on the north side and the Assiniboine and Red rivers to the south.

It’s also one of the city’s most diverse ridings with 40 per cent of the population identifying as a visible minority.

Incumbent Robert-Falcon Ouellette is hoping to keep the seat for the Liberals.

“I have been the voice of the people of Winnipeg Centre to Ottawa. I’ve stood up on a number of occasions pretty well every day, whether it’s standing during questions period to ask questions but also behind closed doors when I get to meet the ministers,” Ouellette told APTN in a sit-down interview.

(Robert-Falcon Ouellette at his campaign office in Winnipeg. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)

Ouellette, who is from Red Pheasant Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, unseated NDP MP Pat Martin in the 2015 election taking 54 per cent of the votes.

It came as a surprise defeat as Martin had previously held the seat for six consecutive elections.

Since taking office, Ouellette was the chair of the Indigenous Caucus and represented the federal government on a tri-government task force looking a Manitoba’s methamphetamine problem.

He also stood up in the House of Commons and gave the first entire speech in Cree.

Advocate Leah Gazan is hoping to bring the riding back to the NDP.

“I’ve been on the ground for decades and I think we need people in the House of Commons that have seamless connections with the grassroots people on the ground,” Gazan told APTN during a community forum on housing.

(NDP candidate Leah Gazan speaks with a constituent at a housing forum in Winnipeg. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)

Gazan, who is originally from Wood Mountain Lakota Nation in Saskatchewan, has spent the past three decades working in Winnipeg’s core as an educator and activist.

“(Winnipeg Centre) has the most diversity, it has the most innovative organizations and it has some of the best advocates in the country. I’m a proud resident…I think that although we do have our issues we have so many strengths that are overlooked,” said Gazan.

Winnipeg Centre is home to some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Canada.

Child poverty is one of the major concerns.

While numbers have gone down in the riding since the Liberals came into power, Winnipeg Centre still ranks as the third highest for child poverty across Canada, according to a new report released by Campaign 2000, a national group of advocacy agencies.

(Campaign signs attached to a fence in downtown Winnipeg. Child poverty and drug use top the list of issues in the riding. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)

However, issues of addictions, safety and community involvement are top of mind for residents in the riding.

Over the course of a week APTN spoke with several community members.

Here’s what they had to say.

Keith Bloodworth lives downtown.

He says he loves the area but it’s lacking accessible community spaces.

“There’s really no place for people to gather to share and be together,” said Bloodworth.

“I know this area seems like it’s better now compared to before but, of course, we still need more security, like some police patrol,” said Gemma Paz.

Paz said the West End of the riding can become a scary place once the sun goes down.

Beverly Gauthier agrees with Paz when it comes to downtown where she lives.

Gauthier cites the “drug epidemic” as a major issue for her area.

The NDP, Liberals and Greens have said they will expand community-based addictions treatment services.

(Conservative candidate Ryan Dyck says working with the city, province and Canada is key to making changes in the riding. Photo: Brittany Hobson/APTN)

The Conservatives have yet to release its platform but their Winnipeg Centre candidate says he will fight to address issues of poverty and addictions.

“I fundamentally believe that I need to be a powerful advocate to make sure that the ground level community organizations get the funding that they need, whether it’s working with the city, the province or at the federal government level,” Ryan Dyck told APTN.

Green Party candidate Andrea Shalay works with grassroots organizations in the West Broadway area.

She says the Green Party is an option for folks tired of the status quo.

“It’s not just boiling things into black and white issues and then calling other people names, it’s about actually figuring out what the problems are and then working with the parliamentary system to come up with and debate out and refine the best solutions for creating the best future for Canada,” Shalay told APTN during a housing forum.

Voters will decide when they hit the polls on Oct. 21.

Reporter / Winnipeg

Brittany joined the APTN news team in October 2016. She is Ojibway and a member of the Long Plain First Nation in Manitoba. Before coming to APTN, she graduated with a joint degree in communications from the University of Winnipeg and Red River College.

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