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This article was published 7/4/2017 (1382 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
And now it's a race.
MLA Wab Kinew will officially confirm Monday he is entering the campaign to become the next leader of the Manitoba New Democratic Party.
Kinew, an author and musician who entered politics just before the 2016 provincial election, joins union activist and former mental-health worker Michelle McHale, who declared her intention to seek the party leadership last month. The combination of two youthful candidates, neither of whom has a long resumé in electoral politics, creates a real opportunity for the party to shed some of the baggage accumulated during its 17 years in government.
In the Kinew candidacy, the NDP faithful will be offered a fairly potent risk-reward equation.
Kinew is young (35), charismatic and seems to possess retail political skills that far exceed his experience. He has a national profile as a cultural figure, broadcast journalist and indigenous activist that has helped him establish a certain political gravitas.
However, Kinew is a candidate with a past that would be the undoing of many lesser politicians.
In his former life as a hip-hop artist, Kinew authored lyrics and social media comments that he has acknowledged were homophobic and misogynistic. He also has convictions for DUI and assault. He has been pardoned for both.
However, while many other politicians have collapsed under the weight of past mistakes of this magnitude, Kinew has stood firm. Helping him in this regard is the fact his critics did not have to look very far to find the details of his indiscretions; Kinew has made several public admissions of these transgressions, including detailed references in his 2012 memoir, The Reason You Walk.
It is the combination of Kinew's political skills and his willingness to own up to his mistakes that NDP supporters hope will not only help capture the leadership, but put the party back on a path to relevance.
"I have done wrong and I've admitted my mistakes," Kinew said in an interview. "I've grown a lot as a person. I've put a lot of work into becoming a better man. I recognize that this is not a box I can check off and say, 'OK, that's dealt with and let's move on.' I know I've got to keep working to show people I've changed."
The importance of having, at minimum, a two-horse race to fill the NDP leadership cannot be overstated. Deeply wounded from its thrashing in the 2016 election and deeply divided from the 2014 cabinet uprising that nearly cost former premier Greg Selinger his job, the NDP needs to create the appearance that party leader is still a desirable position. A single-candidate campaign does little more than enhance the stink of death that surrounds political parties during a rebuilding phase.
That said, even a competitive leadership race will not smooth over all of the rough spots on the NDP's tarnished brand. Since assuming the role of official Opposition, the NDP has been a mess of immense proportions. The NDP caucus has been dogged by controversies surrounding the selection of MLA Flor Marcelino as interim leader, ill-advised comments in the legislature and, most recently, the much-delayed decision to eject MLA Mohinder Saran from caucus after being accused of sexually harassing a staff member.
Kinew acknowledged the NDP has not been as effective as it should have been because of all the internal missteps and squabbles that have forced the party to spend more time "looking at our own navels" than studying the actions of the sitting government.
He also agreed the presence of Selinger in the NDP caucus has been a distraction. Despite facing the internal rebellion and battling to hang on to the leadership before the election campaign, and then overseeing the destruction of the party at the polls, Selinger has remained in caucus with no immediate plans to step down.
Kinew said it must be left up to Selinger to decide how long to hang on. However, he also noted part of the job of the next leader will be to help the party shed its baggage and embrace a new brand and direction to create opportunities for a new generation of candidates.
"Part of what I need to do as a unifying force for the party is to let the older generation know that while we respect what they've done for the party, it's time for a new direction," he said. "I want to recruit new and talented candidates and create opportunities for them to get involved in the party."
Kinew said he expects a torrent of negative advertising from the governing Progressive Conservatives over his past statements and deeds, but will not let that discourage him from seeking the leadership. Kinew said he believes that when Manitobans get to meet him in person, they will see he is sincerely dedicated to rebuilding the NDP into a political force once again.
"I know that it will be a hurdle for some voters," he said. "But I believe that if you give me an hour with your grandma, she will end up voting for me. My challenge over the next three years is to get enough time with all those grandmas to change people's minds."
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.