August 18, 2017

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New NDP leader will need the patience of Doer

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Wab Kinew, with his wife, Lisa Monkman (left), and others, announces his NDP leadership bid.</p>

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Wab Kinew, with his wife, Lisa Monkman (left), and others, announces his NDP leadership bid.

Wab Kinew says it’s time to end the "time out" Manitoba voters gave his party last year and that he’s the right person to lead the provincial New Democrats as they get themselves back into the game.

Whether or not he’s correct on the latter point will be determined by the NDP’s membership in the fall.

On the former point, however, it’s probably wise for Mr. Kinew — or anyone else with aspirations to lead the provincial NDP as it struggles to find its way out of the political wilderness — to get used to the view from the Opposition benches, at least for the medium term.

Mr. Kinew brought an end to months of speculation Monday by formally announcing his bid to become the next leader of the NDP. He made the announcement outdoors, choosing as his soapbox site the shadow of the statue of Louis Riel that stands on the grounds of the provincial legislature. He declared his leadership intentions with a statement that focused on love, compassion, inclusion and redemption.

He immediately becomes the odds-on favourite in a race where the field is currently — shall we say — sparse. Mr. Kinew arrives in the contest with many strategic advantages over his sole current competitor, social-justice activist Michelle McHale. Despite being newly arrived in the political world, Mr. Kinew is a known commodity in this community by dint of his previous and very public efforts as a musician, broadcaster, writer and activist.

In other words, he’s a local celebrity, something that shouldn’t matter in the thoughtful choosing of political leaders but — as evidenced by the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president and the presence of Kevin O’Leary as a viable candidate for federal Conservative leadership — clearly does.

Mr. Kinew also occupies the Fort Rouge seat in the provincial legislature, a huge advantage over his opponent, who has never held political office. Both leadership hopefuls are young — Mr. Kinew is 35; Ms. McHale is 37 — which speaks to the perceived need for a changing of the guard within the NDP after its disastrous unravelling under former premier Greg Selinger’s watch.

What will be interesting to observe is how patient Mr. Kinew can be as he seeks to chart that new direction. His career path before entering politics included stints in several different fields of endeavour, which certainly helped to make him the well-rounded person he now seems to be, but also suggests that perhaps Mr. Kinew is the kind of person who doesn’t like to stay in one place too long.

"One place" is exactly where he’ll need to be if he should succeed in his quest and that place will be the front row of the Opposition benches — for at least three years, probably seven and (possibly) even longer than that.

The NDP brand is badly damaged and, barring a catastrophic meltdown by Brian Pallister’s Conservative government, Manitoba’s New Democrats — with Mr. Kinew, Ms. McHale or some other as-yet-undeclared candidate (hello, Steve Ashton) at its helm — will likely continue to be in voter-imposed time-out mode for an extended stretch.

Patience is a virtue that Mr. Kinew will now need to cultivate in great quantity, as he seeks to lay claim to the Opposition bench seat that Gary Doer occupied for 11 long years before becoming premier.

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