Manitoba’s NDP will be selecting a new leader in September to replace former premier Greg Selinger, defeated in the province’s April 2016 election.
The longest-running candidate in the race to replace Selinger, with multiple endorsements, is the rookie MLA for Fort Rouge Wab Kinew.
Kinew, 35, is well known in Manitoba and across Canada, with a career that has included journalism, music, and university administrat ion.
But he’s no shoo-in. Veteran MLA Steve Ashton recently announced his own bid for the top job in Manitoba’s NDP. Ashton is a career politician who lost his most recent bid for re-election after having held his Thompson seat since 1981.
When you tally it up, this will also be Ashton’s third bid for the job of leader of the NDP. In terms of policy, style, and experience, there is a distinct difference between the two candidates.
Kinew represents a change as well as an ability for renewal. As a rookie MLA, Kinew is new to the political scene, and has been touring the province and meeting with Manitobans and the NDP party faithful.
Meanwhile, Ashton represents the past – perhaps the same past voters rejected in 2016.
While Ashton brings a wealth of experience, having served as a minister in both the Gary Doer and Selinger governments, one must remember that a young Doer, then a rookie MLA and seen as a “bridge builder,” became the leader of a frail NDP party in 1988. He eventually led the party to three straight majorities, enjoying immense popularity in both rural and urban Manitoba. Whoever is leading the NDP needs to remember that they may have the job for a few elections before the party has a serious chance to form government.
During that time, said leader must work to build bridges within the community. Ashton’s leadership may not be in the best interest of the party if the party is looking to rebuild and seek new paths. Kinew has shown in scrums and in the legislature that he is passionate and willing to rebuild and renew Manitoba’s NDP while remaining committed to the issues affecting the province today.
The NDP also needs to remember that it is facing a formidable competitor, electorally speaking.
Brian Pallister received the largest majority in the province’s history, and has been given a clear mandate to govern. This, after running on a relatively bare election platform, stating that “there are no sacred cows” when discussing the future of government services in the province. The NDP needs a leader at the helm with a vibrant vision accompanying a strong direction if the party will successfully – and quickly – oust Pallister’s Progressive Conservative party.
Like Ashton, Pallister has a long history in public service as a career politician. A key minister in Gary Filmon’s government in the 1990s, and later a member of the federal conservatives in Ottawa, Pallister has remained a social and fiscal conservative for the majority of his political career.
He faced criticism for a reconciliation bike ride where he did not engage with any First Nations people but left his tour to attend a PC fundraiser. A $300 million Cancer Care Manitoba facility, approved by the NDP, was axed by the new PC government.
Regardless of the validity we deem Pallister’s actions to possess, he remains as premier until at least 2020. Pallister is essentially building on the ideology that Gary Filmon left the PCs with after losing in 2000. The difference is, Pallister’s government is starting with a sweeping majority whereas Filmon’s PC’s entered government with a fairly thin minority. The political road is clear for the premier for a few more years at least.
The key for the new leader of the NDP is to remember that a great deal of Manitobans went out to the polls with the intent to vote PC. The next leader of the NDP must understand why that happened and address it. They need to be able to do this while presenting themselves as a new and appropriate alternative to Pallister in hopes of best managing change in the years to come. Whoever leads the party after September will have a big job on their hands, and to have any electoral success, will need to appeal to both new voters and current supporters.