By BERNIE BELLAN On Monday, October 3 the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg sponsored an election forum in which six of the leading mayoralty candidates were invited to participate.
As was explained by moderator Jason Gisser, the rules were that each candidate would be invited to give an introductory statement, after which he would pose a series of eight questions to the candidates.
Each candidate would be given one and a half minutes to respond to the question. Once all the candidates had responded to the question, Jason would invite two of the six candidates to add a further 20 seconds to what they had said initially.
While the format was conducive to what turned out to be a relatively genteel event, the fact that the candidates were not allowed to enter into any sort of exchanges with each other no doubt removed any opportunity for a livelier debate. Also, five other candidates for mayor were not even invited to participate.
What follows is my impression of the evening. I want to make clear that I do not support any particular candidate and have not made up my mind how I will vote. Reports that I have read to date either tend to focus on individual candidates or, when they do report on a particular election forum, are relatively truncated. Instead, as is my usual style in reporting on a fairly lengthy event, I like to offer the reader snippets of what occurred so as to give more of a flavour of what went on – without intending it to be a comprehensive repetition of what was said.
Looming over the entire evening, it must be noted, however, given the news story that the CBC had recently broken which raised questions about Glen Murray’s behaviour while he was the executive director of the Pembina Institute, was the possibility that one or another of the candidates would want to launch into some sort of attack on Murray, who is the clear front-runner according to the most recent poll.
The fact is that the only reference to that news story came at the very end of the evening when Robert-Falcon Ouellette made an obvious allusion to the story – when he told of his experience having served in the Canadian Armed Forces for 27 years. During that time, he noted, there was a strong emphasis placed on maintaining the utmost respect for moral behaviour within the armed forces.
Ouelllette went on to say that “No matter what you do at the end of the day, you need a moral leader who will stand up for what is right in our city, that there are certain actions which are unacceptable in our city and there are times as a leader you must say the truth and speak that truth.”
“And so I speak it here today and I hope people understand what it is I’m talking about because it’s certainly unacceptable for us to be here on this stage all together.” (Interestingly, the CBC story that quoted Ouellette had the spelling of that last word as “altogether.” I would suggest that would impart quite a different meaning to what he meant.)
But, that remark came late in the evening, when the candidates were invited to give closing remarks for two minutes each, and – after moderator Jason Gisser had finished posing questions to the candidates.
Prior to that time though each of the candidates certainly came across as articulate and passionate. Perhaps the one candidate who decided to try to separate herself from the pack most distinctly was Jennie Motkaluk, who took a more strident approach when, for instance, she referred at different times to “critical race theory” and “woke” attitudes. She also brought a few smiles from the other candidates when she said she really likes “growth and money.”
The first two questions that Jason Gisser posed, however, might have seemed somewhat parochial to any non-Jews in the audience (and probably a good many Jews as well). The first had to do with anti-Semitism and what each of the candidates would do to combat it if they were mayor. Would they be willing to attend a planned mayors’ conference on combating anti-Semitism? they were asked. Not surprisingly, none of the candidates came out with a position defending antisemitism.
The second question – and one that evidently caught some of the candidates off guard, was whether they would want the city to adopt the “IHRA” definition of anti-Semitism. It was clear that not all the candidates were up to speed on what the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism is. I’m not quite sure what bringing it up had to do with a mayoralty contest in Winnipeg. It reminded me of the effort some years back – not just in Winnipeg, but throughout the world, to declare cities “nuclear free zones” – an interesting proposal, no doubt, but what relevance does it have to urban issues?
The next question though was very much one that has elicited a huge amount of discussion during this election: What would the candidates propose to do about poverty and homelessness?
Glen Murray said that he had practical experience combating homelessness – even prior to serving as mayor of this city, when he helped to foster a neighbourhood housing project in the Spence neighbourhood where, he said, 300 houses were built.
Shaun Loney demonstrated an especially keen knowledge of this file, citing his own background as what he described as a “social entrepreneur,” placing a strong emphasis on creating jobs. “I would add add 1,000 social enterprise jobs to Winnipeg,” he said.
As far as housing is concerned, Loney said he would create a “$100 million land trust.”
“It’s not a money problem,” he added; “it’s a system problem.”
Robert-Falcon Ouellette was somewhat dismissive of candidates’ promises to alleviate homelessness and poverty, asking whether “any of the politicians here are going to do anything but check off all the right boxes? Politicians are great at discussing things,” Ouellette suggested, but when it comes to actually doing things –well, that’s a different matter.
Later he added this observation: “Seventy-five percent of homeless people are aboriginal. They don’t need a home; they need a friend.”
Kevin Klein related his own experience growing up in poverty. His mother was actually killed by his abusive father when he was a kid, he told the audience and “I’ve lived under the poverty line a good part of my life,” he said.
As for politicians not ever doing anything but discuss things, Klein said that he personally brought forward a motion at City Hall to create “Homes for Heroes” – a project that saw a small number of homes allocated to war veterans in Winnipeg.
Scott Gillingham said that he was proud to have been involved in the effort to create a certain amount of “modular housing” for people living below the poverty line. He also said that City Council is implementing a “poverty reduction plan” that he was involved in crafting.
As for Jenny Motkaluk – she said that “the solution for poverty is a really nice job.”
“I want to bring 16,000 high paying jobs” to Winnipeg, she added.
As for homelessness, Motkaluk said “there are 780 derelict houses in this city. I want to auction them off.”
Shaun Loney added that “we need to realize that governments and not-for-profits need to work together.”
Jason Gisser asked each of the candidates to describe their “bold vision” for the future.
Jenny Motkaluk said that “the single biggest impediment to growth and investment in this city is our political leaders.”
Glen Murray said “We need to spend money on things that will make this city more beautiful.” He noted that when he was mayor three of the projects that were built during his time in office included: Waterfront Drive, the Esplanade Riel, and the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. (He observed as well that the CMHR was a great example of all three levels of government working together.)
In contrast, he noted that the single largest project undertaken by the city since his time in office was “$200 million spent of refurbishing the Post Office.”
Shaun Loney pointed to the deterioration of Winnipeg’s “green canopy”, saying that there are 30 different organizations devoted to protecting and expanding the number of trees in the city. He said he would like to consolidate all those efforts and work hard to protect our imperiled urban canopy.
Robert-Falcon Ouellette proposed the creation of an “urban national park” within Winnipeg to add green space to the city.
Kevin Klein said that his bold vision is to make Winnipeg “safe”, noting that “We can’t attract more people here if they don’t feel safe. People won’t ride the bus if they don’t feel safe.”
The next question was about infrastructure.
Jenny Motkaluk said “We’re going to end the corruption” associated with infrastructure projects.
Glen Murray said “We need more value planning to determine whether a project will return in value what it cost to build.” He cited Waterfront Drive as a project that has paid back many times over what it cost the city to create the infrastructure for that development.
Kevin Klein did comment later though that residents of Waterfront Drive are now having to deal with a huge upsurge in break-ins.
Shaun Loney said that rather than think about expanding infrastructure we ought “to focus on the infrastructure we’ve already built.”
Robert-Falcon Ouellette cited the example of Quebec City and its transit system as something Winnipeg could emulate, saying that in that city “People really enjoy taking the bus.”
In response to that suggestion, Kevin Klein said that currently “Seven thousand people a day in Winnipeg don’t even pay for the bus.”
Scott Gillingham proposed extending the Peguis Trail and widening Kenaston Boulevard.
Jason Gisser asked about public safety and what each of the candidates would do to make Winnipeg safer.
Scott Gillingham said that as mayor he would sit on the police board. He also said that he would split up police calls so that police don’t respond to every call for service, with other personnel used in situations that would be better served by another type of emergency responder.
Shaun Loney called for a return to community based policing – with “more cops walking the beat,” adding that “people are going to continue to commit crimes unless they get the intervention they need.” He also observed that we need to “address homelessness” before we can make inroads in enhancing public safety.
After the final question was answered the candidates were allowed one final opportunity to sum up their platforms. As noted, it was then that Robert-Falcon Ouellette was the only candidate even to obliquely refer to the controversy that had recently surfaced about Glen Murray.
And, while five of the six candidates hung around afterwards to schmooze with audience members, Glen Murray took off immediately after the forum was over. I offer that not as an editorial comment – merely an observation.
Beneficiary agencies of the Jewish Federation have received $210,000 less this year than last year as of September 1
By BERNIE BELLAN
For the first time in at least 10 years the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg has reduced the amount distributed to its 12 beneficiary agencies from what had been distributed the previous year. The funds were distributed September 1 for 2023-24.
The total amount distributed this year was $210,000 less than what was distributed in both 2022 and 2021 and is actually $500,000 less than the total that was requested by the beneficiary agencies. (The amount distributed last year was $216,000 less than what the beneficiary agencies had requested.)
In explaining why allocations are being reduced this year, the Federation reported that “Over the past few years, the Federation and community have collectively faced significant challenges, placing a strain on our financial resources. In response to these challenges, the Federation stepped in during our community’s time of need, dedicating over $200,000 from our reserves to sustain our beneficiary agencies.” (In a later explanation it was clarified that $100,000 was taken from Federation reserves in each of 2022 and 2021.)
It was further noted that the decrease in funds to be allocated to agencies represents a 7% decrease over the previous year. Dipping into reserves was described as an “unsustainable practice.” It was also noted that the Federation “notified our beneficiaries of a probable reduction in the amount of funding available well ahead of the allocation request deadline.
In describing the pressures that the Federation’s Allocations Committee faced this year in coming up with its allocations, committee chair Brent Schacter said that “We knew after the budget process last year we were going to be in a bind.” Schacter further elaborated that the two whammies that hit this year were the ongoing repercussions of Covid along with the rapid increase in inflation.
In discussing the pressures that the Allocations committee faced this year, it should also be noted that although the amount raised by the Combined Jewish Appeal – while not much more than the previous year ($6.3 million as opposed to $6.25 million), the negative effects of the drop in allocations are somewhat mitigated by two things:. A good portion of the amount raised by the CJA is in the form of “designated funds,” given by large donors and, while those funds are not available to the B & A committee to distribute, many of the beneficiary agencies did receive large distributions from those “designated funds.”
As well, the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba increased its total distributions this year by $1.3 million over the previous year. While the Foundation’s gifts were spread among a very wide number of recipients, a number of the Federation’s beneficiary agencies did benefit from the increase in Foundation distributions.
Still, the challenges facing the Federation in meeting the needs of the community are leading to a major reassessment of how Federation planners are implementing budgetary planning.
A number of new innovations have now been adopted by the B & A committee, including:
- New application forms – one for agencies requesting more than $250,000 and one for agencies requesting less
- Beneficiaries were asked to state the anticipated outcomes of projects/programs that receive Federation funding, and to develop indicators so that they can measure those outcomes.
- Site visits took place along with periodic meetings with agencies as a whole throughout the year to ensure that the committee gets a more complete picture of beneficiaries’ activities, challenges, and plans.
In describing the process that the Federation undertook to “streamline” the budget allocation process, Federation President Gustavo Zentner said “Lay leadership and management had a responsibility to look at the business model.”
It was determined that the Federation needed “a more effective way of managing the allocations process,” Zentner stated, including “more meaningful communication with the agencies to bring to light their projects.”
Not only does the Federation want to improve its own fundraising process, Zentner continued, “We also want to help agencies to raise funds on their own.”
Despite the reductions in allocations available to agencies this year, Zentner stressed that “we wanted to address the needs of those members of the community who are most in need.”
Brent Schacter added: “We want to see people dig a little bit deeper” when it comes to giving. The Combined Jewish Appeal is now into its fundraising campaign for the 2023-24 fiscal year.
Six members of the community receive King’s Counsel appointments
A total of 17 lawyers were appointed King’s Counsel by Order in Council on August 29. Six members of our Jewish community were among those appointed. Although appointments as King’s Counsel are usually accompanied by biographical information about those appointed, there was no press release issued by the Manitoba Government announcing the appointments. When we contacted the Manitoba Government news room to ask why there was no biographical information available, the response we received referred to KC appointments announced in February (no surprise there – these are bureaucrats we’re dealing with). When we asked again why there was no biographical information available about the most recent batch of KC appointments we were told “the Province of Manitoba is in the middle of an election blackout and department communications are limited as a result. News Room has nothing further to add.”
As a result, we present here photos of Jewish recipients of KC appointments, but without any further information.
Kayla Gordon inducted on to Rainbow Stage’s Wall of Fame
Myron Love It was in the summer of 1984 when Kayla Gordon was appearing in the Rainbow Stage production of “Kismet,” that the long time actor/director/producer/photographer found herself doing her make-up sitting next to Nia Vardalos, the writer and star of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” fame, who was also appearing in the production.
“We both were playing opposite each other in the comic roles as the Ayahs to the Wazir (the main lead), and we began talking about our plans for the future,” Gordon recalls. “Nia was talking about moving to Toronto and joining the Second City company. As for me, I was in a comedy troupe in Winnipeg and just found out I was pregnant with my first child. My plan was to stay in Winnipeg, even though I was a bit jealous that she was going off to pursue her dream and I was staying put. That was my ‘Kismet’ and I never looked back.”
Rainbow Stage is where Gordon began her career in musical theatre at the age of 17 in a production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” After a career of more than 40 years, both on stage and behind the scenes – it is fitting that one of the leading lights of community theatre in our city has been recognized for her contributions by Winnipeg’s longest-running theatre company. On Wednesday, August 17, Gordon was one of the five inductees to Rainbow Stage’s Wall of Fame under the “Builder” category. The award is given to someone who has been part of nurturing and building our theatre community.
“It was a wonderful surprise,” says the honoree. “It brings my career full circle.” Previous honours for Gordon include the Leadership Award from the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Theatre Educator’s Award from the Winnipeg Theatre Awards for her long-time leadership within the arts community.
Gordon reports that the induction ceremony, attended by about 100 friends and family members of the inductees and Rainbow Stage staff, was held just prior to the opening night performance of “The Little Mermaid,”,the second of three shows the company is putting on this summer and early fall.
“It was also special to have one of my grandchildren, my husband Art Maister, my mom Ethel, and my aunt Evelyn Hecht at the induction ceremony,” she adds. (Evelyn also performed at Rainbow Stage in the 1950s.)
Gordon notes that while she appeared onstage in seven Rainbow Stage productions – from 1977 to 1993, she was honoured not for her acting, but for her role as a nurturer of talent through teaching acting and musical theatre at the University of Winnipeg for 18 years, as well as teaching at the University of Manitoba, Prairie Theatre Exchange and The Manitoba Theatre for Young People – also, later as the Artistic Director of Winnipeg Jewish Theatre for over 10 years and Winnipeg Studio Theatre, which she founded in 2006.
“I get a lot of satisfaction watching actors I’ve directed and students I have taught and nurtured performing at Rainbow Stage and other venues in the city,” Gordon notes. Many of them have gone on to work professionally and have appeared across Canada, as well as in Broadway productions. Some of them include: Alexandra Frohlinger (Soul Doctor/Broadway), Samantha Hill (Phantom of the Opera/Broadway), Jaz Sealey (Aladdin/Broadway), Andrea Macasaet (Six/Broadway), and Nyk Bielak (Book of Mormon/Broadway).
Gordon was an actor and high school drama teacher at West Kildonan Collegiate for the first 15 years of her career. By the mid-1990s she found herself becoming more interested in working behind the scenes as a director/producer. In 1994, she became the Winnipeg Jewish Theatre’s second artistic director – succeeding WJT founder Bev Aronovitch – a role she played until 2006. Following her time at WJT Gordon observed that local theatres were not hiring many female theatre directors.
“I realized that if I wanted to work as a director, I would have to create my own projects,” she recalls. So, she started Winnipeg Studio Theatre (WST) in 2006. Soon after forming the company, she invited her longtime theatre associate Brenda Gorlick to run the StudioWorks Academy, a program for emerging artists.
In 2021 she stepped down from her position at WST. “I am still interested in directing – but without the added pressures of being a producer or the full-time responsibility of running a professional theatre company,” she observes. “I like having the freedom to pick and choose the projects I want to work on.” I still plan to work on independent contracts directing theatre and creating entertainment for special events or fundraising activities in the community.”.Last year she produced and directed the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg’s Negev Gala tribute honouring Gail Asper and Michael Paterson. As well, stepping down from her responsibilities with WST has also allowed Gordon to devote more time to her other passion – photography. “I have been interested in photography since I was 15,” she recounts. “My father Ralph had a dark room in our basement.”
Over the past couple of years, she has achieved accreditation with the Professional Photographers of Canada in four different areas of photography: street photography (her favourite), portraiture, performing artists, and figure study. And, last year, she co-authored a coffee table book – “The Murals of Winnipeg,” with fellow photographer Keith Levit as a fundraiser for Take Pride Winnipeg, with 80 pages of photos, which sold out in two weeks and the funds will go to emerging mural artists. (That story can be found on the jewishpostandnews.ca website.)
Kayla is grateful to have stayed in Winnipeg and she sums up her career, and how and why she managed to work in theatre all these years with a quote from Henry Winkler (aka ‘The Fonz’) “I live by tenacity and gratitude. Tenacity gets you where you want to be, and gratitude allows you not to be frustrated along the way”.