Robert Falcon Ouellette addresses “elephant in the room” after Lorrie Steeves’ racist comments
By Sean Kavanagh, CBC News
Every so often a political speech rises above the din just enough that heads snap around and listeners rise on the balls of their feet to hear more.
Such a moment happened this week at the courtyard of city hall in Winnipeg.
No one can argue Robert Falcon Ouellette isn't an accomplished person.
His rise above poverty, distinguished career in the military and successful scaling of the mountains of academia are evidence of this.
And as a Cree man who wears a long ponytail, carefully braided at the back, he is slowly building a following of aboriginal citizens who long for a hero — educated, well-spoken and proud of his heritage.
In the often crass world of media, his political inexperience has been noted; at times snidely by reporters, editors and pundits in their private chats.
Other times in public, to the extent Ouellette was labelled a “fringe candidate” in the local editorials.
But something is happening on the way to the ballot box.
Comments made by Gord Steeves’ wife on a Facebook post four years ago may have not made a second, third or fourth news cycle with some faster reaction and damage control by the candidate and his team. We will never know.
But Ouellette, guarded in his comments just hours after the posts were published on Twitter on Friday, rose up on the balls of his own feet this Monday.
On his own Facebook page, Ouellette admitted how tough Monday's words were to write and say.
"It was a hard speech to say but directly from the heart," he posted.
Perhaps the outing of Lorrie Steeves’ Facebook comments about drunken panhandlers downtown exposed the elephant in Winnipeg's room.
There is no doubt that some share the same fears, rhetoric or belief about First Nations people in our city.
But Monday morning Robert Falcon Ouellette held that elephant over his head and shook some of the stuffing out of it so citizens could have a look inside.
Ouellette described his own experiences of racism -- even as a man with a PhD and job teaching at a university.
He called out Winnipeg as a “divided city,” one he said is “split by colour and economic potential.”
It is a problem he says must be addressed for the sake of children who inherit the city in 20 to 30 years.
If you think Ouellette 's views are on the fringe, you might have to run that by Winnipeg Jets owner Mark Chipman.
At a conference in May 2013 organized by the Business Council of Manitoba, Chipman identified poverty and education issues among aboriginal people as the single biggest challenge to Manitoba's prosperity.
Many decry Lorrie Steeves’ comments on Facebook as racist.
Others agree with her, either anonymously on posts on news websites or conversationally among friends around BBQs, at the pub or watching their child's soccer game.
Regardless of opinion, they have opened a door on the soul of the city and opened a door to a new political figure in the city.
Don't expect Robert Falcon Ouellette to simply disappear into the fog of post-election. It doesn't appear to be part of the man's character.