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This article was published 23/4/2016 (1218 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
WINNIPEG — They’re a diverse group — like the province itself — and they can’t wait to get to work.
When Manitoba’s rookie MLAs gather in the legislature for the first time later this spring, they will outnumber the veterans 29-28 in the 57-seat chamber.
Are they excited about their new challenge? Definitely. Humbled by their victory? Check.
But the eight newcomers the Winnipeg Free Press talked to this week are determined to make a difference immediately.
Jon Reyes, PC, St. Norbert
If you watched last fall’s Grey Cup, you likely saw Jon Reyes on the field, although he probably didn’t make a big impression.
At 43, the business owner and former military man was the game’s ball boy.
For Reyes, a busy man and a father of two, football officiating is an escape. He has refereed Canadian university football games in three provinces. At the CFL level, he works with the support crew, although he admits he will have to sharply curtail that work now he’s an MLA.
“I’m like a kid in the candy store. I see the action. I hear words that the fans don’t hear. So, literally, I have the best seat in the house. But I’m not sitting. I’m literally running around and fetching the ball.”
Reyes, who owns a UPS franchise and has received awards for volunteerism, defeated NDP incumbent Dave Gaudreau on election night. He said football officiating, in a sense, has prepared him for politics because you have to have a thick skin as an official. “People are always yelling and screaming at you.”
Born and raised in Winnipeg, he was founder and past-president of the Filipino Business Council. Among his political heroes and mentors is Dr. Rey Pagtakhan, a former federal Liberal cabinet minister and the first Filipino-born Canadian elected to the House of Commons.
Reyes served for a decade in the Canadian Forces, including a half-dozen years in the navy, where he spent a good part of his time stationed on the HMCS Winnipeg, travelling the world.
He believes his background in the military, small-business and the non-profit sector has prepared him for elected office. “I’m results oriented. I like to make things happen,” he said.
Nahanni Fontaine, NDP, St. Johns
The transition to being an MLA is going to be a cakewalk for Nahanni Fontaine.
She has been living on her own since she was 15, surviving a rough childhood that saw her move across the country, living in Vancouver, Montreal and Winnipeg.
“I am the type of person that I always embrace change. A lot of people just repel against change or they just get anxiety. People like myself embrace change and go for the journey and where it is going to take me,” she said.
A single mother of two sons who put herself through university, Fontaine has received several awards for community service and activism, including a Governor General’s Award in commemoration of the Persons Case in 2013 and a YMCA-YWCA Women of Distinction Award for community volunteerism in 2008. She has been in the forefront of raising awareness about missing and murdered indigenous women and girls.
Fontaine’s 20-year-old son spent five days in the Manitoba legislature last year as part of the Youth Parliament of Manitoba sessions, so the joke is that he has more experience in the Manitoba legislature than she does.
She has about two weeks to pack up her office at the Legislative Building, where she has been the government’s special adviser on aboriginal women’s issues for the past five years.
Fontaine, who succeeds retiring NDP stalwart Gord Mackintosh in St. Johns, is an Ojibway woman from Sagkeeng First Nation.
Alan Lagimodière, PC, Selkirk
Alan Lagimodière had sold livestock feed in Alberta, started a consulting company in Saskatchewan and earned three degrees, including an MBA, by the time he settled down to practise veterinary medicine in Selkirk at the age of 31.
Born and raised in northern Manitoba, Lagimodière is a direct descendent, sixth generation, of Jean-Baptiste and Marie-Anne (Gaboury) Lagimodière, among the original Red River settlers.
A longtime veterinarian in Selkirk and an animal protection officer for the province, he’s also a partner in a hotel ownership group.
On election night, he defeated Greg Dewar, one of Manitoba’s longest serving MLAs and the province’s minister of finance.
<t$>Interviewed by telephone while on his way to a nephew’s wedding in Calgary on
Friday, Lagimodière said he’s willing to take on anything premier-designate Brian Pallister wants to throw his way.<t-3>
“He certainly has a very diverse team. And wherever he feels that I can fit in the best, that’s what I want to do is to support the team,” he said.
Janice Morley-Lecomte, PC, Seine River
Pallister doesn’t have far to look when talk in caucus turns to dealing with domestic violence — Janice Morley-Lecomte has been on the front lines for the past 15 years.
<t-4>The women’s shelter where she’s a domestic violence counsellor gave Morley-Lecomte a five-year leave of absence after she won the
Seine River constituency for the Progressive Conservatives Tuesday night. The seat had been held by the NDP’s Theresa Oswald, who did not seek re-election.<t-5>
It was 25 years ago that Morley-Lecomte became an outreach volunteer with Manitoba Child and Family Services, which led to a political science degree and then to courses in applied counselling at the faculty of arts at the University of Manitoba.
She has since spent 15 years counselling women who’ve suffered violence and abuse, many of them living in poverty, many of them indigenous women or new Canadians.
Eileen Clarke, PC, Agassiz
Eileen Clarke started running her own gift shop in Gladstone at the age of 18 and first met Pallister when he taught school in the community in the 1970s.
“He’s very committed and he’s somebody who wants the job done well. He knows how it needs to be done, and he strives for perfection. And I’m a little that way myself,” she said.
Clarke ran her own business for 33 years and has been heavily involved in municipal politics. For eight years, she was the mayor of Gladstone, during which time the town, unlike most rural communities, grew in population.
She was also on the board of the Association of Manitoba Municipalities, the last four years as the organization’s vice-president — a time in which she lobbied the province on such issues as economic development and health and participated in the drafting of legislation to ensure accessibility for those living with disabilities.
For Clarke, who ran in a safe Progressive Conservative seat that came open when Tory incumbent Stuart Briese retired, winning the nomination was the toughest part of the job of getting elected.
She said she’s not phased by the transition to becoming an MLA. “I’m not worried at all. Not a bit. I am ready to get to work. You bet I am.”
Judy Klassen, Liberal, Kewatinook
There was an agonizingly terrifying moment when Judy Klassen realized her Liberal candidacy in Kewatinook could be sinking fast.
A literally life-threatening moment.
Klassen campaigned by driving thousands of kilometres across the North, over ice roads and snowy provincial highways through the bush, during the 35-day campaign in a constituency larger than some European countries.
One day Klassen and a campaign worker took a wrong turn, and then she heard a crack. You don’t want to hear a crack driving on ice roads.
“I actually went through the ice. I opened the door, and there was water there,” and it was partway up her wheels. Fortunately, Klassen and her supporter soon realized that there was water on top of more ice that was for the moment holding, and they were able to get turned around and back onto a sturdier ice road.
Klassen, a chartered accountant who defeated NDP incumbent Eric Robinson, reckoned she visited every tiny, isolated community twice, and met 80 per cent of the eligible voters. “The first day my vehicle weight was allowed on the ice, I was ready to go.”
She will undoubtedly take that same determination into her new job in the legislature.
She credits a visit by Justin Trudeau to northern Manitoba last year with providing a boost to her campaign. “He met with our leadership last fall — that small move was so important to our people. Our people fell in love with him.”
Rochelle Squires, PC, Riel
Rochelle Squires is no stranger to the Manitoba Legislative Building.
In fact, she is in her third tour of duty at the grand old building on Broadway, having worked as a political aide for the Progressive Conservatives and, before that, a legislature reporter with the Winnipeg Sun.
A onetime teenage single mom on welfare, Squires, 45, earned a secretarial diploma and worked as a secretary in her 20s, earned a journalism diploma and communications degree from University of Winnipeg in her 30s and recently received a master of fine arts from the University of British Columbia in creative writing.
“I think it is a huge honour that we live in a great country like Canada and in a province like Manitoba where a woman can go from such an underprivileged background to holding office,” said Squires, who has five children and one grandson in a blended family with her partner Daniel.
Cindy Lamoureux, Liberal, Burrows
Cindy Lamoureux, who defeated the NDP’s Melanie Wight, has lived and breathed politics her whole life. When she was born, her father, Kevin, had already been an MLA for four years.
“As a child, I was pulling a lot of wagons holding signs,” she said, recalling that her father, now an MP, was not beyond using a kid to persuade people to be more polite and open at the door. “I was like an icebreaker — I was talking to people at the door when I was 12.
“I had the awesome opportunity of holding protests with my dad,” once sleeping overnight, at age 13, on the Legislative Building’s marble floors to protest how little time the NDP was conducting business in the legislature.
She may be only 24, but she points out her dad was three months younger when he was first elected to the legislature in 1988 than she was on Tuesday night. And he’d lost in his first bid — in 1986.
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