The latest scandal to afflict the Gord Steeve’s Mayoral campaign has all the components required for truly great theatre…..controversy, chivalry, injury, social awkwardness, stereotyping and the “r” word.
As I watched the debacle unfold I had no inclination to weigh in. I prefer to avoid stories that create media frenzies reported on by every pundit, journalist and writer in the Province.
Then came the press conference.
As I watched Mr Steeves struggle through one of the most awkward media events I’ve ever witnessed, I couldn’t help but conclude he simply isn’t ready to be Mayor of the City of Winnipeg.
In a word, Leadership.
I don’t fault Mr Steeves for supporting his wife and I certainly don’t hold him accountable for the words or opinions she expressed in social media. But the fact remains, the things Lorrie Steeves said were racist, hurtful and help to perpetuate negative racial stereotypes at the expense of Aboriginal people. There was a way to deal with the controversy but saying his spouse apologized and I support her simply wasn’t enough.
Because of our history and because of our current reality.
On Monday, I attended a meeting convened by the Winnipeg Police Board designed to communicate and consult with citizens to assist in the development of programs and policy. Prior to the start of the meeting participants were provided reference material that included a segment titled, “Challenges for Aboriginal People” under the heading “Winnipeg Environment.”
The document included the following factoids;
- Aboriginal people have experienced racism, colonization, residential schools, oppression and dispossession of land, language and livelihood
- 75% of Aboriginal people who attended residential schools have mental health issues, substance abuse issues or PTSD
- Aboriginal women are three times (3x’s) more likely to be a victim of spousal abuse
- Aboriginal youth are six times (6x’s) more likely to commit suicide
- Between 2007 – 2011, 88% of admissions to secure custody under the YCJA were Aboriginal
- In 2011-2012, 69% of adult persons in custody were Aboriginal
- Aboriginal people represent 10% of the population of the City of Winnipeg
- The Aboriginal population is projected to be more than 100,000 people by the year 2020
When you look at these factoids you have to connect the dots on one of the most significant issues that faces the City of Winnipeg.
In a word, crime.
Winnipeg’s status as a leader in our Nation’s crime severity index and the Aboriginal experience are inextricably connected. Mayoral candidates can’t afford to be blind to that reality. Winnipeg Police Chief Devon Clunis is trying to be a catalyst for change in our crime challenged City. “We have the potential to lead all of North America in revolutionizing Policing,” Clunis said at the Police Board meeting.
That revolution includes a commitment to,”prevent crime through social development.”
That revolution requires an inclusive approach that embraces the Aboriginal community.
That revolution requires a deep understanding of the impacts of racism, poverty and crime.
That revolution requires a Mayor who recognizes and respects the importance of the fastest growing demographic in the City of Winnipeg.
While Gord Steeves didn’t have to “own” his wife’s racist diatribe on social media, he certainly could have acknowledged the hurt those comments caused for his Aboriginal constituents. An acknowledgement and apology was all the medicine required to begin the healing process. His failure to walk down the conciliatory path is an indictment of his leadership and his potential as a Mayoral candidate.
That’s too bad because from where I sit he seemed to be running one of the most substantive, progressive campaigns.
For the record….
I worked the streets in downtown Winnipeg for over twenty-three (23) years and during that time I encountered hundreds of drunk, aggressive pan handlers and vagrants.
And guess what, they came in all colours, shapes and sizes.
Even if you disagree with the sentiment expressed in this editorial then ask yourself this question;
If you were going to run for a major political office would you not vet your own social media and that of your spouse and children?
It seems unconscionable to me that Mr Steeves or someone associated with his political campaign didn’t have the vision or foresight to engage in a social media vetting process. We hear about “vetting” in American politics all the time. Even if you don’t watch CNN what politician hasn’t heard of Kevin Spacey’s award winning series, “The House of Cards.” If you haven’t seen it, “vetting” is a central theme in the political drama.
The failure to engage in a vetting process speaks to a lack of attention to detail.
A quality any viable Mayoral candidate should possess.