Racism, public safety and better health care were among the big talking points at a Thompson, Man., mayoral candidates Q&A on urban Indigenous issues at the Ma-Mow-We-Tak Friendship Centre on Thursday evening.
Les Ellsworth, Ron Matechuk and Colleen Smook, the three people running for mayor of the northern Manitoba city, all were at the event hosted by the friendship centre, Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, Keewatin Tribal Council and the Manitoba Métis Federation.
While the focus of the forum was urban Indigenous issues, the first question targeted a big-ticket item for the city and beyond: a new hospital to provide better health care for those coming in from surrounding communities.
“We need to build a brand-new hospital here,” said Ellsworth, who’s a city councillor.
“And we need to look after the people that live in Thompson and the surrounding communities, and that’s not happening.”
Health care is a provincial responsibility but Ellsworth said as mayor, he’d “make sure we get a new hospital and the service that we deserve here in Thompson, Man.”
Smook, who is running for re-election after becoming Thompson’s first female mayor in 2018, said the city definitely has to keep advocating for a new hospital and health care.
“Doesn’t necessarily have to be all the health care in Thompson. We are the hub,” she said.
“There’s larger communities that surround us that have just as much right to have more health care in their communities served right there.”
Matechuk, a former city councillor making his fourth run for the mayoral chair, didn’t speak about the need for a new hospital, but focused on foot care as an example of the need for more health services in the city.
“We do need more health care,” he said. “Starting with the most basic — give us back foot care.”
Organizations like the Thompson Seniors Community Resource Council have petitioned for the return of specialized foot care to the city. There were two foot care nurses in the community but when they retired, they were not replaced.
“I, too, am diabetic, and I see people in wheelchairs with legs and feet gone,” Matechuk said.
Candidates were also asked how they’d address racism in the city.
Ellsworth said as mayor, he would make sure that everyone in the municipal government understood their role and that there would be a penalty for ignorant behaviour.
“If they did not comply with the role, if I had a councillor, or any administration, anyone, that would have to be dealt [with] in a respectful way,” he said.
Smook suggested a task force on racism could be developed, “to just find out just exactly what courses that we need to take as a community.”
Matechuk said the solution is simple.
“To address it, you stop and where you see it,” he said. “Simple as that.”
Public safety was also raised as an issue.
Ellsworth said downtown Thompson is the number 1 issue he hears about while door-to-door campaigning.
“I’m very committed to looking at what’s happening in our downtown area,” he said. “We need to deal with it.”
Smook said in her work with other communities, she’s learned that all 10 of the communities in Manitoba with the highest population are dealing with the issue.
“It’s not just Thompson,” she said.
“We’re working on the crime.”
Candidates were also asked about the Thompson Aboriginal Accord and its implementation. The accord, signed on June 21, 2019, “affirms [the city’s] commitment to strengthening relationships with Indigenous governments and peoples.”
“It’s no good to come and say we’re going to work on this and we’re going to work on that,” Ellsworth said.
There’s no committee structure to work on it, he said.
“We should have been talking about it all the time.”
Smook said implementing the accord is up to everyone, including Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak and Keewatin Tribal Council.
“If we as city have fallen down, then yes, we have to get back on it,” she said.
Matechuk pointed out that a high percentage of Thompson’s population is Indigenous.
“We have to act accordingly,” Matechuk said.
The municipal election is Oct. 26.
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