Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/4/2017 (1037 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Wab Kinew is about to find out that one is most definitely the loneliest number.
Last week, the Fort Rouge MLA found out he was the only person seeking to lead the Manitoba New Democratic Party. On Saturday, the only other candidate vying for the job, Michelle McHale, withdrew from the race citing health concerns.
There are few prospects for other candidates to join the race at this late stage. Leadership candidates have until June 18 to sign up new members eligible to vote in the September leadership convention. All candidates must be registered by mid July.
Given the extremely tight timeline, the prospects of another candidate entering the race are quite remote. Party sources say membership sales have been robust — typically a sign someone else might be getting ready to jump in — but the overlap with the federal NDP leadership race is muddying those waters. The NDP has a joint federal-provincial party membership, so a lot of the sales activity could be generated by organizers for federal leadership candidates.
Rumours continue to persist former MLA Steve Ashton, or his designate, might jump in at the last moment. Lamentably for those who would like to see the ubiquitous Ashton rise for a third leadership run, there is little evidence to suggest he has been quietly working to unleash a fully formed leadership campaign at the last moment.
If we assume this is going to be a one-horse affair, you may wonder how the lack of an actual leadership campaign will affect Kinew. It’s hard to foresee the future at a time when the NDP is at such a low ebb, but there are some examples in political history that may reveal the curse that some acclaimed leaders carry into their jobs.
In fact, Kinew’s current predicament eerily mirrors the one faced in 2000 by former Tory leader Stuart Murray.
That spring, the Tories began the process of picking a new leader after the resignation of former premier Gary Filmon after the Progressive Conservatives’ loss in the 1999 provincial election. A successful businessman and former political staffer to prime minister Brian Mulroney, Murray had been highly recruited to replace Filmon.
Initially, the leadership race featured Murray and veteran MLA Darren Praznik. However, in May, just a few weeks into active campaigning, Praznik withdrew after claiming many of his allies had been bullied by veteran party officials into withdrawing their organizational and financial support.
Murray was acclaimed as leader in early June when no other candidates stepped forward. With the leadership vote scheduled for the party’s annual general meeting in November, Murray faced the prospect of spending five lonely months in a campaign without a race.
The acclamation had several negative impacts on Murray’s leadership. First and foremost, the lack of an actual campaign left many inside and outside the party wondering exactly who he was.
Normally, contenders for a party leadership would be expected to unveil policies, participate in debates and discuss current events with party members and news media. The end result is a good many people would know a little more about who the candidates were and what they stood for by the time an actual vote took place. In politics, that is called "earned media," and it is essential for politicians seeking to build a personal brand.
With no one to press him to make announcements or face him in a debate, Murray coasted through a mostly invisible leadership campaign. Instead of news conferences, Murray spent the summer travelling the province to meet with the executives of the Tory riding associations and other party faithful, saying very little other than the fact he was committed to consulting with members to rebuild the PC brand.
In early November, Murray was acclaimed at the Tory AGM. Two weeks later, he won a byelection in Kirkfield Park, and a week after that, he was sitting on the front bench of the opposition side of the Manitoba legislature. The lack of a fulsome leadership battle left him unprepared for, and untested in, political battle.
There are striking similarities between Murray then and Kinew now. Like Murray, Kinew is looking at the very real prospect of spending the summer conducting a stealthy campaign to meet party faithful. Even so, Kinew’s fate as NDP leader could — big emphasis on could — be a bit different.
He will have been a MLA for 18 months by the time the NDP gather in September to choose a new leader. And he entered politics as a rookie candidate in the 2016 general election with a much higher public profile — largely because of his work as a musician, author and aboriginal activist — than Murray enjoyed back in 2000.
Most importantly, like Murray, Kinew will have to face a stark reality: a party that can only attract one leadership candidate does not excite many people.
Again, the Progressive Conservatives leadership race in 2000 took place one year after an election where the Tories were punted from power. The party was cash poor and had been abandoned by many of its keenest organizational and strategic minds. When Murray eventually took over, he had little support or resources with which he could wage legitimate political war with the ruling NDP.
Some leaders have been able to dodge the curse. Premier Brian Pallister was acclaimed as leader of the PC party. However, by the time he took over, the party was better funded and organized and the NDP were ripe to be beaten.
If Kinew is going to break free of the curse of the unopposed-opposed leadership candidate, he is going to have to attract a top team of advisers and strategists.
He is going to have to show an ability to raise money. And he is going to have to hit the ground running and demonstrate the advanced political skills needed to lead a party.
Unless he can do all of those things, the final chapter of Kinew’s leadership could echo Murray’s final days: an internal revolt, an insufficient show of support at a party convention and banishment to the political wilderness.
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.