December 14, 2019

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NDP hopes Kinew stronger than his wonky lectern

Opinion

As far as political harbingers go, this wasn't the kind of image that the NDP had hoped to generate on this, the most important day of Wab Kinew's still short political career.

With a startling thud, the portable lectern Kinew had just used to launch the NDP's 2019 provincial election campaign crashed onto the hard surface of a parking lot at St. Vital park, a victim of a sudden gust from an unusually cool and unusually stiff breeze.

Campaign workers quickly gathered pieces of the lectern and hauled it away from public view. Fortunately for Kinew and the NDP, most supporters and journalists who had gathered for this event did not even turn their heads to check out the commotion. They were too busy watching the NDP leader and his young family. It's an image Manitobans will see a lot in coming weeks.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>NDP leader Wab Kinew officially launches the NDP provincial campaign at St. Vital Park in Winnipeg on Wednesday.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

NDP leader Wab Kinew officially launches the NDP provincial campaign at St. Vital Park in Winnipeg on Wednesday.

In many ways, the NDP's fate will depend on whether the party can convince voters that Kinew has put the angry and ugly episodes from his younger life behind him. In that battle, Kinew and his family will play a central role.

Well away from the wreckage of the lectern, Kinew posed for photos with his wife, physician Lisa Monkman, and their three children, in front of Dodge Caravan festooned with their larger-than-real-life smiling faces.

It was a powerful, made-for-TV moment that drew attention away from the lectern's collapse. It remains to be seen, however, whether it will draw attention away from the attack campaign that Tories have already unleashed on the NDP leader.

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew revealed his campaign van -- featuring images of his wife, physician Lisa Monkman, and their three children -- for the Sept. 10 provincial election. (Steve Lambert / The Canadian Press)

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew revealed his campaign van -- featuring images of his wife, physician Lisa Monkman, and their three children -- for the Sept. 10 provincial election. (Steve Lambert / The Canadian Press)

Even before Kinew and family arrived in the campaign van at St. Vital Park, the Progressive Conservatives had put out a news release warning voters that the NDP in general, and Kinew in particular, "are a risk Manitobans can't afford."

The news release starts with a medley of the worst policies brought forward by the previous NDP government. But it finished with references to Kinew's checkered past: an assault on a taxi driver; allegations of domestic assault from a common-law partner; and a question about whether Kinew is still somehow profiting from rap songs he penned which contained "misogynist" lyrics.

The Tories are also operating a website dedicated to exposé-styled television, complete with the melodramatic musical score and screaming headlines detailing Kinew's troubled past.

It remains to be seen whether the Tories will take these ads — they have been around for weeks now — from YouTube, where they live now, to the mainstream of campaign advertising, including paid television ads. It will be a critically important decision.

The upside for the Tories is that the attack ads could very well undermine the NDP's attempt to portray Kinew as the central character in a story of redemption. The downside is that attack ads always run the risk of alienating voters if they react more to the motivations of the attackers rather than the allegations against the person being attacked.

This country's electoral history is littered with examples where attack ads were effective in destroying a leader's credibility, and other examples where the ads blew up in the face of the party that authored them.

This country's electoral history is littered with examples where attack ads were effective in destroying a leader's credibility, and other examples where the ads blew up in the face of the party that authored them.

It is nearly impossible for the NDP to actually form government after this election. However, Kinew does not have to win to claim success. He needs only to win more seats than his party won in 2016. How many more is not clear, but it has to be enough that the party rank-and-file see a future in his leadership.

This was the challenge that faced former Premier Gary Doer during the 11 painfully long years he spent as opposition leader. Doer lost the 1988 election and saw the NDP's seats decline to 12 from 30. However, in the 1990 election, he won eight more seats for a total of 20. In 1995, he bumped his caucus to 23 seats. And then, in 1999, he finally won a majority mandate with 32 seats.

Can Kinew follow in Doer's footsteps? At first blush, it would seem well within the realm of the possible.

Few incumbent governments have given opposition parties as many pure political gifts as Tory Leader Brian Pallister has given the NDP and Liberals in this upcoming campaign.

Few incumbent governments have given opposition parties as many pure political gifts as Tory Leader Brian Pallister has given the NDP and Liberals in this upcoming campaign.

Emergency room closures, deep cuts to infrastructure spending, a public sector wage freeze, frozen support for public education, cuts to municipal grants. Add in recent allegations the Pallister government is manipulating Manitoba Public Insurance as a favour to political friends in the private insurance industry, and the Tories have given their political enemies lots of ammunition, particularly in Winnipeg, where the NDP and Tories have roughly the same amount of voter support.

And yet, the NDP is still very much in a rebuilding mode and will be challenged just to recapture all 14 seats it won in 2016.

Maples MLA Mohinder Saran was expelled from caucus after allegations of sexual harassment. And four other MLAs — James Allum (Riverview-Fort Garry), Andrew Swan (Minto), Rob Altemeyer (Wolseley) and Flor Marcelino (Logan) — are not running for re-election. The expulsion and all the retirements will test the work done by the NDP to rebuild its ground game in those key ridings.

One thing is certain: Kinew must demonstrate that he can grow the party. If he loses seats, or only manages to maintain the same number produced by the 2016 election, a rickety lectern will be the least of his worries.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

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.

Read full biography

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