POLITICS

Two high-profile municipal candidates in Winnipeg eye political jump

11/25/2014 05:49 EST | Updated 01/25/2015 05:59 EST
WINNIPEG - An aboriginal candidate who seemed to come out of nowhere to place a strong third in Winnipeg's recent mayoral election is eyeing a jump to federal politics and says he's getting offers from different parties.

Robert-Falcon Ouellette, who gained attention with promises to bridge the racial and economic divides in the city, said Tuesday he has been talking to federal New Democrats and Liberals about running in the upcoming federal election.

The New Democrats, he said, have offered him a choice of ridings.

"They said, 'You pick what you would like. We'll see if we can make it happen. We will help and do the fundraising and find the money to make your campaign a success.'"

Ouellette has also taken out a Liberal nomination package with an eye to perhaps running in Winnipeg Centre, held by New Democrat Pat Martin. He hasn't filled out the paperwork yet, and is scheduled to met with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau on Friday.

Ouellette is also a guest speaker at an upcoming Liberal fundraiser for the St. Boniface riding, where Dan Vandal has been nominated.

He said one factor for him is finding a party that can help him get elected.

"No one likes to lose," he laughed.

"It's good to have the debate, but at the same time, I'd like to be in a position where I can continue that debate as an elected official in some capacity."

Ouellette entered the race for Winnipeg's October mayoral election a virtual unknown. The 37-year-old had never held public office and had no political machinery behind him. He served in the military and later became the director of aboriginal focus programs at the University of Manitoba.

Sharply dressed and well-spoken, Ouellette went from being a fringe candidate to garnering more media attention than many of his competitors. He talked about racism in the city and the need for people of different income levels to work together.

His campaign started with "four people around a kitchen table" but quickly garnered hundreds of volunteers. He surprised everyone by finishing in third place — ahead of four other candidates, but behind winner Brian Bowman and second-place finisher Judy Wasylycia-Leis, both of whom had party connections and the volunteer bases that come with that.

Since the election, Ouellette has been invited to speak to high school students. He continues to try to engage more younger people and aboriginals — two groups that traditionally vote in very low numbers.

The experience of running in a mayoral campaign "was pretty amazing, even the ability to mobilize people who usually don't vote."

Ouellette said he's also been approached by the Manitoba Progressive Conservatives to run provincially in 2016.

He hopes to make a decision soon. Nomination meetings both federally and provincially have already started in many parts of Winnipeg.

Ouellette is not the only high-profile municipal candidate eyeing a jump to another political level.

Taz Stuart, a former city entomologist who was frequently seen on television advising Winnipeg residents about mosquitoes, ran and lost in a council race in the River Heights-Fort Garry seat. He now wants to run for the Progressive Conservatives provincially in the constituency held by Liberal Jon Gerrard.

Stuart said he will seek the Tory nomination and expects at least one competitor in a race likely to be decided early in the new year.

The Tories "sort of have the same principles ... that I do, so it was a logical choice," Stuart said.

"They came to me after the (municipal) election and made the suggestion ... and I've considered it and we'll see what happens after the nomination period."