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'It's a new direction,' Kinew says on first day at helm of NDP's damaged ship

Newly-elected NDP Leader Wab Kinew in his new office at the Manitoba Legislature.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Newly-elected NDP Leader Wab Kinew in his new office at the Manitoba Legislature.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/9/2017 (728 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Wab Kinew is busy hiring staff, meeting with MLAs to assign caucus roles and planning strategy as he prepares for the resumption of the Manitoba legislature in a little over two weeks.

On Monday, the newly minted Manitoba NDP leader was conducting media interviews and moving into the spacious office afforded the leader of the official Opposition on the main floor of the Legislative Building.

With the new job also comes a bigger paycheque. Kinew will receive a $51,745 increase in pay on top of his base MLA salary of $94,513 (effectively, $93,025, as all legislative assembly members have agreed to return or donate the 1.6 per cent pay bump they received in the spring).

The NDP had been operating without a permanent leader since their April 2016 election defeat. Logan MLA Flor Marcelino had filled in on an interim basis. Former leader Greg Selinger remains the MLA for St. Boniface.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/9/2017 (728 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Wab Kinew is busy hiring staff, meeting with MLAs to assign caucus roles and planning strategy as he prepares for the resumption of the Manitoba legislature in a little over two weeks.

On Monday, the newly minted Manitoba NDP leader was conducting media interviews and moving into the spacious office afforded the leader of the official Opposition on the main floor of the Legislative Building.

With the new job also comes a bigger paycheque. Kinew will receive a $51,745 increase in pay on top of his base MLA salary of $94,513 (effectively, $93,025, as all legislative assembly members have agreed to return or donate the 1.6 per cent pay bump they received in the spring).

The NDP had been operating without a permanent leader since their April 2016 election defeat. Logan MLA Flor Marcelino had filled in on an interim basis. Former leader Greg Selinger remains the MLA for St. Boniface.

Kinew said Monday he wants the NDP's message to become more focused, with an emphasis on health care and job creation.

"I am the leader now. I have my own team and it's a new direction," he told the Free Press.

Kinew, 35, said his clear victory at the weekend convention — he took three-quarters of the delegate vote against challenger Steve Ashton — sent a "strong message" that New Democrats want a united party after years of division.

"I think that more than a mandate for myself, what the vote represented on Saturday was a mandate to put division behind us and to focus on unifying the Manitoba NDP," he said.

Four members of the 13-member NDP caucus supported Ashton — a 35-year MLA who lost his Thompson seat last year — for the leadership.

"I will be working hard to bring everybody back together, both in caucus but also in the larger party, too," Kinew said. "There are still some New Democrats who are on the sidelines, who are still nursing hurt feelings. While I respect those feelings, it's time to move on and go back to serving the people of Manitoba."

Some party members and supporters are concerned about how Kinew has responded to news of past allegations of domestic abuse when he was in his early 20s. He was charged with two counts of domestic assault against former common-law partner Tara Hart 14 years ago, but the charges were later stayed.

Kinew has repeatedly denied assaulting Hart, who spoke out about the allegations last week. Her sister and mother became emotional in an interview with the Free Press over the weekend, angered by the new NDP leader's denials.

"I knew this family well at one point in my life," Kinew said Monday. "And while I've been clear about the allegations themselves, I do recognize that the bigger picture here is, clearly, I did something to hurt them emotionally — that there are issues that are left unresolved.

"And because I know that I was at an unhealthy place in my life at that time, I do accept responsibility for leaving things unresolved, for hurting them in whatever emotional ways that I did. And so I do apologize for leaving things unresolved and for whatever damage I did."

Asked how he will get past the matter now, Kinew said that's out of his hands.

"The first thing I acknowledge is that it’s not up to me when I get past it. People have questions – media, just the average person, supporters have questions. And as long as people have those questions I’m going to continue to answer them with honesty and integrity and as best as I can," he said.

He said he also wants to assure Manitobans that he will "continue to be a voice to try and end violence against women, workplace harassment... (and) sexual misconduct."

"One of the things as a man who is a leader — one of the things that I have to do is to create space for women to lead on this issue — both people on my team, caucus members, but also more generally the activists and the people who are leading a lot of these conversations in public."

Meanwhile, the NDP's federal leader, Tom Mulcair, dismissed criticism about Kinew's past Monday while speaking with reporters in Ottawa.

"I think that Wab Kinew gave complete answers to that, and he's now the leader of the party in Manitoba and I congratulate him for his victory," he said.

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

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