Attendees at mayoral forum focused on immigrants, newcomers say they’re eager to vote in Winnipeg election

A full house of new Canadians turned out at the South Sudanese Community Centre downtown Winnipeg Saturday for a Winnipeg mayoral candidates forum on issues relating to immigrants, refugees and newcomers to Canada.

All but three of the 11 candidates vying to become the next mayor of Winnipeg were there to present their case for why members of those communities should elect them.

Idris Adelakun, Rana Bokhari, Chris Clacio,  Robert-Falcon Ouellette, Scott Gillingham, Shaun Loney, Glen Murray and Rick Shone attended the forum. Kevin Klein, Jenny Motkaluk and Don Woodstock did not.

More than 180,000 people — roughly a quarter of Winnipeggers — are immigrants, according to 2016 census data, the most recent currently available.

Eight of the 11 candidates in the 2022 Winnipeg mayoral election attended Saturday’s forum. (Andrew Wildes/CBC)

Roselyn Advincula said she’s been living in Canada for 14 years and became a citizen only last year. She exercised her right to vote in the federal election and said she’s now excited to do the same in the Oct. 26 municipal election.

She said many friends and neighbours have asked her who she intends to vote for, so she hopes to share the information she gathers at the forum with them.

“There are so many candidates, and right now I don’t know yet who to vote for, so I’d like to make an informed decision,” said Advincula.

Wani Michael, who came to Canada from South Sudan in 2009, says since becoming a Canadian citizen, he’s voted in elections at every level.

Wani Michael volunteers with newcomer youth and says he sees first-hand the challenges they are facing. (Andrew Wildes/CBC)

Michael volunteers for an after-school program in Manitoba called Peaceful Village, which works to support newcomer youth. He sees first-hand the challenges they face to integrate, especially if they don’t speak English as a first language, Michael said.

“It becomes a difficult thing, it becomes a challenge … and if you are not educated, if you’re not trained, how are you going to live?”

Voting rights for permanent residents

Several attendees were interested in the government extending the right to vote in municipal elections to permanent residents. Only Canadian citizens are allowed to vote in Winnipeg’s civic election.

Damhat Zagros, who is of Kurdish Syrian background, said he became a Canadian citizen just two months ago, so hasn’t previously been eligible to vote in a civic election.

Damhat Zagros, who is of Kurdish Syrian background, said he became a Canadian citizen two months ago. But even before that, ‘I always considered myself a Winnipegger,’ he says. (Andrew Wildes/CBC)

But he said some things didn’t change when his status went from permanent resident to Canadian citizen. 

“I always considered myself a Winnipegger,” he said. 

The idea of allowing permanent residents to vote in municipal elections has been raised in cities across the country for years.

Zagros asked the panel if they’d support such a change.

Adelakun, Bokhari, Gillingham and Murray said they’d need to consider the legalities of the proposal before committing to it. 

Loney detailed a new campaign announcement just prior to Saturday’s forum — a 15-point plan he says would make Winnipeg more inviting to newcomers. Part of that includes a pledge to ask the province of Manitoba to change the Elections Act to allow permanent residents to vote. 

Voting, he said, is a good way for people “to have a sense of belonging and connection to their community,” he told CBC in an interview. 

“Over 10 per cent of the population of Winnipeg are not citizens. They’re paying taxes, they’re accessing services, and we have very low turnout in municipal elections. 

Welcome and inclusion policy 

Saturday’s forum was was organized by Immigration Partnership Winnipeg, together with the Manitoba Association of Newcomer Serving Organizations and other community organizations.

Civic issues are “very much connected to the lives of the people,” said Reuben Garang, director of the non-profit Immigration Partnership Winnipeg.

“The recreation services come from the city, transportation comes from the city and other services, so it’s very important for newcomers to have a voice in who is going to be the mayor, who is going to be the school trustee and who is going to be the councillor in their wards,” he said. 

A man wearing a collared shirt is standing in front of a bookshelf.
Reuben Garang is executive director of Immigration Partnership of Winnipeg. (Cameron MacLean/CBC)

Garang said one of the main issues Immigration Partnership Winnipeg and other settlement agencies want is the implementation of the city’s Newcomer Welcome and Inclusion Policy — a plan that outlines how Winnipeg can make the city a better place to live for newcomers and better meet their needs.

The policy was developed by Immigration Partnership Winnipeg and other settlement agencies with the City of Winnipeg and was adopted by the city as a policy framework in 2020, but implementation has since stalled, said Garang.

“We are calling the candidates here to ensure that if they become the next mayor, they make sure that they implement [it],” said Garang. 

All the candidates present pledged to implement the policy and committed to hiring the staff necessary to do so. 

Advance polls in Winnipeg’s election are open now until Oct. 21.

Election day is Oct. 26.

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