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This article was published 15/9/2017 (1055 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There is uncertainty and some trepidation among Manitoba New Democrats as they select a new leader on Saturday.
Both leadership candidates -- career politician Steve Ashton and political neophyte Wab Kinew -- come with political baggage.
Ashton, 61, who lost his seat in Thompson last year after a 35-year career in the legislature, has contested the leadership twice already and lost. He is linked with both the successes and some of the darker episodes of the former Selinger government.
Kinew, the MLA for Fort Rouge, has been facing new revelations of past allegations of domestic assault, including media interviews in recent days granted by the alleged victim, who described being "flung... around the living room" causing her to suffer rug burns.
So, along with the usual excitement that goes with a leadership convention, there's also concern, with some NDPers questionning whether either candidate has what it takes to lead them to victory.
"Unless something changes, we can't win with either of these guys. There's no way," said one longtime New Democrat on Friday.
"I'm discouraged going into this convention," said another, who described himself as a Kinew supporter. "The whole thing is just a huge mess, as far as I'm concerned. I'm quite disheartened by it all."
Kinew, the frontrunner going into Saturday's convention at the RBC Convention Centre, has repeatedly denied assaulting his former girl friend 14 years ago while fully aware that many will be inclined to believe her.
"I know that people don’t come forward with an allegation lightly. I know the media attention is likely very stressful for this person. And so I do feel empathy," the 35-year-old author and former broadcaster said Friday.
"I contributed to the end of our relationship and I accept responsibility for those things that I did. But with respect to the allegation (of domestic assault), no that didn’t happen. And I can’t take responsibility for something I didn’t do."
Ashton said he believes the victim's story and calls her a "courageous woman." Battling domestic violence is "fundamental to who we are as a party," he said Friday.
In the final days of the campaign, Ashton has sent mail outs to party members criticizing Kinew for failing to be fully forthcoming about his past and failing to admit to past misdeeds.
Ashton said the NDP have taken Brian Pallister to task for not being up front on issues, such as those concerning the premier's vacation home in Costa Rica. "Going into the next election we just can't be anything other than 100 per cent transparent," he said.
However, on Friday some of Kinew's biggest backers, including several high-profile women within the party, stood firmly behind him, while saying they couldn't comment on allegations made more than a dozen years ago.
"I think Wab's support is solid," said former cabinet minister Nancy Allan, pointing to the "transformation" Kinew has undergone since he was a young man.
NDP MLA Nahanni Fontaine said Kinew has been sensitive to gender issues and an ally in battling violence against women.
"This is the Wab Kinew that I know. I didn't know Wab 14 years ago," she said.
On Facebook, former NDP president Carmen Nedohin, who described herself as a past victim of domestic violence, said she continues to support Kinew. "Many of us never, ever learn from our mistakes and continue to repeat the same behaviour," she wrote. "He (Wab) works every day to be the best person he can be."
But while Kinew's supporters -- and perhaps the majority of delegates at Saturday's NDP convention -- may be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, the question is whether Manitoba voters will do the same, should he be elected leader.
"I'm not certain that the electorate would be that forgiving," said a longtime party member, who favours Kinew over Ashton. "I think the party, the convention, might be that forgiving. But I wonder if the electorate is that forgiving."
The 2017 NDP leadership convention begins at noon. A leader is expected to be chosen by 2:30 p,m. By Friday, more than 1,100 delegates had registered or the event. Some 550 tickets were sold for a fund-raising banquet Friday evening that featured a speech by environmentalist Dr. David Suzuki.
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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