Klein likely too little, too late to help tumbling Tories, but opposition not taking chances
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Fresh off a disappointing but still respectable showing in the fall’s Winnipeg mayoral race, now-former city councillor Kevin Klein wasted little time in finding his next political challenge as the Progressive Conservative candidate in the upcoming Kirkfield Park provincial byelection.
It was, as they say in politics, a good get for the Tories.
Although he served only one term, Klein comes into this byelection with much more experience than he had when he first ran for council in 2018. He is more confident, more informed on the issues facing government and more familiar with the nuts and bolts of an election campaign.
And yet, as he has found out in the early days of this campaign, city hall and the Manitoba legislature are worlds apart in terms of political stakes and strategy.
For more than a week now, both opposition parties have been relentless in attacking Klein’s character, largely for his very brief association with Peter Nygard, the now infamous women’s apparel maker who is being held in Toronto without bail awaiting trial on charges of sexual assault and unlawful confinement.
It would be hard to find any single person, anywhere in the world, who represents a greater threat to the reputation of a would-be politician than Nygard.
Facing criminal charges in multiple countries and jurisdictions around the world, it has been alleged that Nygard groomed poor women, some of them under the legal age of consent, to be used as sexual toys by the fashion-mogul and his friends at a sprawling estate in the Bahamas. He is as controversial and toxic as they come.
Klein worked for Nygard twice: once in 2012 for four months and again in 2014 for another two weeks. He said he quit the second gig after Nygard berated him in front of other people.
Klein’s association with Nygard has been in the public eye for some time. As a councillor, he found himself facing questions about what he knew, if anything, about the nefarious goings-on at Nygard’s Bahamian estate. A 2008 photo of Klein and Nygard standing side by side has been frequently published in Winnipeg media. At the time, Klein was the publisher of the Winnipeg Sun, a Sun Media holding and supplier of commercial printing services to Nygard’s fashion empire.
At no time has anyone been able to even remotely suggest Klein knew or should have known about what was going on at Nygard’s estate. That is not, however, the essence of the attacks on Klein.
The opposition narrative goes something like this: Klein has not been consistent about describing the dates, duration and nature of work he did for Nygard; how can you trust a politician who cannot be fully transparent about the brief time he found himself in Nygard’s orbit?
Transparency and consistency are not insignificant values in politics. But has Klein been so evasive or vague about his Nygard experience to warrant the full-court press being unleashed by the opposition?
Both the NDP and Liberals have taken the issue of Klein’s candidacy to the floor of the Manitoba legislature during question period. NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine accused Klein of lying and padding his resumé. The previous week, Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said his party would not have approved Klein as a candidate based on his association with Nygard, going as far as to suggest he may have played a role in an alleged bribe offered by Nygard to a Bahamian politician in 2012.
So, is all this fuss really about Klein and Nygard, or is it about the Kirkfield Park byelection?
Every byelection is important, but every once in a while, one comes along that has the potential to change the political dynamic in a particular jurisdiction. This is one of them.
Kirkfield Park was put in play when former Tory MLA and cabinet minister Scott Fielding left to pursue other opportunities that did not appear to include trying to breathe life into a moribund PC government. With Premier Heather Stefanson languishing as the least-popular premier in the country, and without Fielding’s name recognition, Kirkfield Park seemed very much up for grabs.
The degree of risk could be clearly seen in Stefanson’s reluctance to call the byelection. The premier waited until the very last day allowed by law to trigger a writ. This is really the last thing the Tories need at this stage in the general election calendar — a close race to fill an open seat that could serve as the straw that breaks the Stefanson government’s back.
And here is the one, indisputable fact that reveals the motivation for the attacks: Klein is an asset who — even with his association with Nygard back in the news — should do more to help Tory fortunes than hurt them.
At this point, it is impossible to predict the Dec. 13 byelection outcome. Even so, we can be sure of two things.
First, you can bet that opposition parties will be putting the words “Klein” and “Nygard” in the same sentence as much as humanly possible.
And second, the voters of Kirkfield Park will have the final say about whether that strategy says more about the Tory candidate, or those making the allegations.
Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.