• Jim Mosher

NDP leader Kinew takes in Winnipeg Beach family skate fundraiser

NDP leader Wab Kinew with 2016 Gimli riding candidate Armand Belanger, right.

— Photo Jim Mosher

Wab Kinew, the easy-going and articulate leader of the Manitoba NDP, was in Winnipeg Beach to support a family skate fundraiser for the Interlake-Gimli riding association at the town’s community centre Sunday.

Kinew had been invited by the fledgling Interlake-Gimli riding association, formally established Feb. 2. What were once two separate ridings, Interlake and Gimli, were altered as part of a 10-year electoral boundary review.

Interlake riding and Gimli riding were long-held by the NDP but went Tory blue in April 2016. A return to the fold would be a welcome addition as the Opposition NDP holds only 12 seats in the 57-seat legislature. The governing Tories have 38 seats.

We spoke with the NDP leader, elected in September 2017, before he took to the small crowd of about 20 people to mingle and listen.

Kinew says the geographic size of the new riding of Interlake-Gimli will present challenges for whomever wins the nomination.

“The candidate here in Interlake-Gimli is going to have to work pretty hard because it’s a big geographical area to cover,” the NDP leader said in a brief but wide-ranging interview. “We’re going to need a good candidate here who can relate to everybody.”

The candidate, said Kinew, must connect with people on the issues, among them health care, education and even remote but consequential things such as Winnipeg’s north end treatment plant, which can affect Lake Winnipeg. “They will have to understand the challenges and let people know they’re going to be a strong representative,” he said.

And, if Kinew is correct, candidates will have a year to connect with their constituents. He believes the next provincial election is likely a year away but says his party is ready for a snap election. “If the premier does call an early election, we’ll just accelerate our timeline,” the NDP leader said. “We’ll be prepared whenever the election is called.”

The NDP hope to have candidates in each of the 57 ridings by the end of March. The Interlake-Gimli riding association will be making a call for candidates soon. The party’s 2016 standard-bearer, Armand Belanger, is already set to seek the nomination.

Whomever that candidate may be there may well be a year to campaign. Kinew thinks the election is probably not going to be called until the spring of 2020. “My personal opinion is that [Premier Brian] Pallister will call an early election but perhaps not as early as this year,” he said. “I’m thinking maybe spring 2020 rather than fall 2020. I think they will bring in the 2020 budget then call an election shortly thereafter.”

While Kinew is upbeat about the NDP’s prospects, it will be an uphill struggle. After being trounced in the polls in April 2016 (Kinew was not the leader at the time), the party’s prospects of a full recovery seem slim, even assuming there is a full year before Manitobans elect their next government.


Kinew meets with residents during fundraiser.

Building the party from its current 12 seats is a daunting task, made the more difficult after the looming departure of political heavyweight former Attorney General Andrew Swan, who plans to run federally in Winnipeg Centre, a riding currently held by Liberal Robert Falcon Ouellette.

Swan has represented the Minto riding for almost 15 years. He has served in a variety of Cabinet posts in successive NDP governments.

Asked, in particular, about Swan’s decision to jump ship and its impact on party fortunes down the electoral road, Kinew acknowledged Swan’s contribution to the party. Swan, famous for needling the Pallister Tories in the legislature, will be missed, Kinew said.

“Here’s a guy who was the Attorney General in the past,” Kinew began. “And after the NDP lost in 2016, he came in, without much ego, and he just started researching and writing his own questions for question period — and he just kept putting in the work that we need to do in Opposition. I’m very grateful for the help that he’s put in.”

However: “My job as leader, though, is I’ve got to put the team together that’s going to win next time,” continued Kinew. “And I think — and I’ve said this before — the next NDP government will have to look different than the last NDP government.”

But it’s a steep incline. How is the trajectory going to change? It’s about recreating the party, giving it a ‘different’ feel, says the leader.

“It’s the old joke: give Pallister a milliion-dollar head start and maybe it’ll be a fair fight,” Kinew said ironically. “The way I look at it is this. Travelling around the province, I don’t hear many people who are proud of their premier right now; I don’t hear people who are happy with the changes that he’s made to health care, the cuts that he’s been making to education — so I think that’s our opportunity.”

“Our opportunity is, while many Manitobans want there to be a balanced budget, that they don’t like the way the budget’s being balanced right now. So my job and the challenge of my job is going to be to persuade Manitobans that I’m balanced when it comes to the books but I’m going to listen to them more when it comes to standing up for health care services and standing up for schools.”


Kelvin Goertzen was health minister when this photo was taken. NDP leader Wab Kinew believes the now-education minister is engaged in "a cost-cutting" exercise.

File Photo Jim Mosher

And what about the potential impacts of the Pallister government’s comprehensive Kindergarten to Grade 12 education review?

“My big concern is who’s doing it,” said the NDP leader. “The head of it [review commission co-chair Clayton Manness] is a guy who fired 700 teachers as education minister. Then afterwards he said that [former premier Gary] Filmon was gutless, basically saying he felt that Filmon should have gone even further in the 1990s in terms of the cuts. So he [Manness] is leading the review and he’s going to be delivering the report to an education minister [Kelvin Goertzen], who when he was health minister decided to close emergency rooms in Winnipeg.”

“It seems predetermined to me that this is a cost-cutting exercise the impact of which is not only going to be on the school divisions but the parents, the teachers in the classroom who are going to see their resources for their kids cut.”

While his ascent to leadership of the NDP September 2017 was a rocky one, Kinew says he is humbled by the rare opportunity to lead a provincial party.

‘How are you liking it so far?’ we asked.

“I love it,” he said as our interview concluded. “I never forget that I have the job that I do. Never mind just being a First Nations person, not too many people from any background get a chance to be an MLA or a leader of a party. So I just try to stay humble — and remind myself it’s a great honour.”

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The introductory remarks should suffice for now.