Running for love: Wab Kinew launches bid to lead Manitoba NDP

NDP Leader Wab Kinew and wife expecting a baby

Wab Kinew admits there's a lot of work ahead to rebuild the fractured NDP in Manitoba, but he's certain there is something his party can bring to the legislature that the governing Progressive Conservatives cannot — empathy.

"We need more love, we need more care, we need more compassion in government," Kinew, the MLA for Winnipeg's Fort Rouge riding, said Monday morning while standing near the Louis Riel statue on the grounds of the legislative building.

The 35-year-old author, activist, musician, journalist and politician made the comments as he officially launched his bid for another title, as provincial NDP leader.

"I'm running for that kid in the youth centre, who's been told every day that they're bad, who's been told over and over again by society that they don't matter," he said. "I want to say directly to that young person, 'I was you, and I am living proof that you can change your life for the better.'"

Kinew also said he's running for the parents who know their child has "something beautiful to give to this world and will spend everything you have and give it your all to ensure that your kids have a brighter future.

"And I'm also running for that elder who's lying in a bed somewhere, maybe in a hospital, maybe at home, about to make their final journey. They may be confused, they may not understand what is happening, but they know there is somebody beside them who loves them and that brings them peace.

"I want to say to that parent, 'I am you today.' And I want to say to that elder, 'I will be you tomorrow. And you are the reasons that I'm running.'"

Pallister has 'crossed the line'

It's about caring for the people who are Manitoba, not about taking away from them the way Brian Pallister's government is, Kinew said.

"Brian Pallister has crossed the line. He's gone too far. He's started to make cuts that are really going to hurt Manitobans," he said.

"This version of the Pallister Tories  — it's a version that's showing its true colours — but this version is not what Manitobans voted for last year."

"But if I'm being honest, I also have to acknowledge that Manitobans sent my party a message last year as well. They put us on time out. I want to say to those Manitobans that I've heard that message, that we need a new direction, we need to listen better, we need to work hard to re-earn the trust of the people of this great province.

"Now with that said, I also want to say the time out is over."

Kinew vowed to hold Pallister accountable over the next 3½ years as well as build a strong NDP team to give Manitobans "a strong choice in the next election; a real choice this time — new faces with new ideas to bring New Democrats in a new direction."

Kinew was first elected to the legislature in April 2016, as his party suffered a resounding defeat after 17 years in power. The NDP went from holding 37 of the 57 seats in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly to just 14.

And now they're down to 12.

Point Douglas MLA Kevin Chief resigned in January to pursue new opportunities in the private sector. Mohinder Saran, MLA for The Maples, was kicked out of caucus after being accused of sexual harassment.

The leadership election will take place in September, though an exact date has not yet been set.

Only one other person has stepped up as a candidate. Michelle McHale, a social-justice activist who sits on the executive of the Manitoba Federation of Labour, made her candidacy official in early March.

A staff representative with the United Food and Commercial Workers union, McHale is also new to the party, but not as a politician — she took out an NDP membership a year ago.

Kinew made his leadership bid for the NDP on Monday with dozens of supporters standing behind him including Bernadette Smith, the nominated candidate for the NDP in Point Douglas, but she stopped short of saying she fully endorses Wab Kinew.

"Well I'm here to support our next leader whether that's Wab Kinew or Michelle McHale, you know I believe in our party, I want to continue to rebuild and unify," Smith said.

Still early in race

Indigenous activist and University of Winnipeg instructor Leah Gazan said she is not supporting Wab Kinew at this time because she is waiting to see who else makes the bid for the NDP leadership, adding she is having her own struggles to support the party right now.

"What will be interesting is to see what kind of platform they each come forward with, I know that the NDP is in a bit of an identity crisis," she said.

"Unless I see a really clear commitment with a clear solid plan that goes beyond rhetoric in terms of what their plan is in honouring Indigenous human rights in this province ... I'm going to feel really hesitant about getting a membership."

Former leader Greg Selinger stepped down shortly after the party's defeat. Flor Marcelino was named the interim leader in May 2016.

The election loss was an exclamation point for what was already a crumbling party. Public support for the NDP had dropped after the government raised the provincial sales tax in 2013.

Five senior cabinet ministers openly questioned Selinger's leadership the following year, saying they needed to make a change at the top in order to keep the party afloat.

The revolt led to a leadership convention vote that Selinger barely survived.

"What I'm trying to do in assembling my leadership team is to unite people … who were part of the successful years that New Democrats had in government and also bring in some people that are going to be the ones to win next time," Kinew said.