Wab Kinew had mere hours to savour his Manitoba NDP leadership victory before facing more questions about his past after the mother and the sister of a former common law partner he is alleged to have assaulted 14 years ago spoke this weekend to the Free Press.

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Wab Kinew had mere hours to savour his Manitoba NDP leadership victory before facing more questions about his past after the mother and the sister of a former common law partner he is alleged to have assaulted 14 years ago spoke this weekend to the Free Press.

Political observers say the women's accusations will cloud his leadership and perhaps prevent the beleaguered NDP from enjoying the traditional — if sometimes temporary — bump in support a party receives when it selects a new leader.

"It makes it more difficult for Wab Kinew to create a new, untarnished image for the New Democratic Party," said Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba. "So much of the party's reputation and brand is associated with the leader."

If allegations of past domestic violence continue to dog Kinew, it could erode the confidence even of his leadership supporters, Thomas said.

"A lot of people, no doubt, behind the Kinew campaign will be having at least reservations — even second thoughts — about what they've done," he said Sunday.

Chris Adams, another Winnipeg political scientist, said if Kinew can't shake the allegations, it raises questions as to whether the NDP under his leadership will be able to regain swing ridings, particularly in south Winnipeg, that are critical to winning a majority government.

"The question is, are those (negative stories) going to continue in the next couple of years? That has an impact on the south Winnipeg voters and whether they stay with (Premier Brian) Pallister or they go back to the NDP fold."

Kinew, 35, who was first elected to the legislature in Fort Rouge in April 2016, scored a big win over veteran politician Steve Ashton in Saturday's leadership convention, taking 728 of the 981 votes cast. In doing so, he won delegate support from throughout the province and was endorsed overwhelmingly by organized labour.

In the dying days of the campaign, Tara Hart, who was the centre of 14-year-old domestic assault allegations against Kinew, spoke to the media for the first time. She said Kinew threw her across the room causing her to sustain rug burns to her legs.

In an interview with Free Press columnist Gordon Sinclair, Jr., this past weekend, Hart's mother Wendy Bird and sister Melanie Hart offered more details of the alleged incident, including an accusation that Kinew dragged Tara Hart by the hair down an apartment building hallway when the two lived in a downtown Winnipeg highrise.

Two charges of domestic assault against Kinew were ultimately stayed. The new NDP leader has repeatedly denied he ever assaulted Hart.

On Saturday, speaking to convention delegates he apologized for the pain that the allegations have caused the party and survivors of domestic abuse.

While Kinew did not grant interviews with local media on Sunday, he issued a statement apologizing again "to anyone who has been reliving experiences of intimate partner violence" as a result of the stories about himself in the media.

"I acknowledge this is painful for Wendy and Melanie, and I apologize to (Tara Hart) and her whole family for my actions that contributed to their pain," he said.

Speaking to NDP convention delegates on Saturday, he brought up Hart's domestic violence allegations, saying that he accepted responsibility "for the things that I did that contributed to the end of our relationship."

Within minutes of Kinew's victory Saturday, Manitoba's Progressive Conservative party launched a website, WabOn.ca, that attacks the new leader's policies as well as his past, citing examples of misogynistic music lyrics from his hip hop days and past tweets that degraded women.

Kinew, an author, Indigenous-rights activist and former broadcaster and university administrator, says he is a changed man. He has repeatedly apologized for his past, which include convictions for assault and impaired driving when he was in his early 20s.

Thomas said Kinew has already "gone some distance" to acknowledge past mistakes and say he's sorry. "I'm not sure how much further he can go. It's very tough," 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.