November 11, 2019

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Editorial

No honeymoon for NDP's new leader

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/9/2017 (784 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/9/2017 (784 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

This was supposed to be a moment of triumph. A cause for celebration. The turning of a page. The dawning of a season of renewal. The long-awaited rebirth of optimism.

Instead, Manitoba’s New Democrats emerged from the long-awaited convention at which they finally cast ballots to choose their new leader as a party that has applied a thin veneer of hope to its tangled mess of flaws and frustrations.

The internal question of party leadership has been laid to rest. Larger questions about the party’s near-term future — and specifically about the leader on whom the NDP has pinned its hopes for an electoral renaissance in 2020 — have only begun to be asked.

It’s not easy being orange these days. Hasn’t been for quite some time. And won’t be for some time to come.

Wab Kinew’s victory at the NDP convention was of the decisive nature, the sort that all political parties crave. The 35-year-old rookie MLA defeated perennial leadership aspirant Steve Ashton by a resounding three-to-one (728-253) vote margin. Whether the result was driven by Mr. Kinew’s fresh-faced appeal, simply a broader dislike of Mr. Ashton, or perhaps some combination of the two, is an issue for New Democrats to decide.

What was evident on Saturday is that the new NDP leader will not enjoy any sort of honeymoon period as he steps into his role. At very nearly the same moment he was delivering a victory speech in which he acknowledged his troubled past and vowed to "continue to prove... that I am a changed man every day through my career in public service," relatives of the alleged victim in a pair of stayed domestic violence charges were meeting with a Free Press columnist to voice concerns about Mr. Kinew’s continuing denials that the alleged abuse ever happened.

And seemingly within moments of the NDP convention’s end, the Progressive Conservatives launched a website whose sole purpose is to showcase the New Democrat leader’s past misdeeds, offensive tweets and misogynist rap lyrics — most of which Mr. Kinew has acknowledged and apologized for — in an online forum one can safely assume will remain very active right up until the next provincial election.

At a time when the NDP, buoyed by a new leader’s enthusiasm and a renewed sense of purpose, should be launching itself headlong into the official-opposition job of taking Premier Brian Pallister’s government to task, the New Democrats seem destined to spend the "honeymoon" period of Mr. Kinew’s leadership very much on the defensive.

And if that’s the case, the next few months will surely amount to a squandered chance, as the PCs’ clumsily executed implementation of health-care reform and last week’s suggestion by Mr. Pallister that Manitobans might soon be paying a new premium (tax) for health services have created silver-platter servings of opportunity to turn public opinion back in the NDP’s direction

Former premier Greg Selinger steered the NDP into the political ditch by breaking a promise about a tax. The New Democrats’ inability to shake loose of that "lie" was the biggest factor in their undoing in the last election.

The fact Mr. Pallister might well be on the verge of a broken promise of a similar magnitude should be the main focus of the NDP’s dialogue in coming weeks. But in the aftermath of last weekend’s convention, it seems likely the opposition will be more concerned with defending its new leader than going on the offensive against its Tory foes.

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