Wab Kinew’s election victory in Manitoba is a historic triumph but also a personal one as he overcame a troubled history and negative stereotypes about Indigenous people and is now set to become the country’s first First Nations provincial premier.
During the campaign, the former rapper, broadcaster, author and university administrator fended off attacks from the incumbent Progressive Conservatives over a past that includes criminal charges and addiction.
Mr. Kinew, born to an Anishinaabe father and non-Indigenous mother, says he was given a second chance in life after brushes with the law.
His victory is a breakthrough for First Nations representation in Canadian politics. But he says it’s much more than that after his New Democratic Party campaigned relentlessly on a promise to fix Manitoba’s health care and deal with affordability issues.
“Yes, representation matters. But what the people of this province chose wasn’t to make a statement about representation. What they chose was to make a statement about wanting a positive future,” he said. “They wanted health care, they wanted more affordable quality of life, and they wanted us to rise above the negativity.”
Although the 41-year-old premier-designate is a role model for Indigenous youth, he says he’s also one for all Canadian young people.
“I feel a responsibility to do right by young people in the province and the country. And certainly that includes young Indigenous people,” Mr. Kinew said on Wednesday on The Current, one of CBC’s national radio programs.
“But I also think that it is important for non-Indigenous youth also to see people from different backgrounds at every rank and level in our society, so that they know our province, Manitoba, our country, Canada, is an inclusive one.”
The NDP defeated Manitoba’s PCs in Tuesday’s provincial election, ending the incumbent party’s chance at a third term in government. Heather Stefanson resigned as PC leader Tuesday night. She became Manitoba’s first female premier after winning the party leadership race in the fall of 2021.
Elections Manitoba’s unofficial results indicated that the NDP won a majority government with 34 seats. The PCs took 22 and the Liberals one.
The NDP’s victory marked a rejection of what was seen as a divisive strategy deployed by the PCs. Ms. Stefanson promised not to search a Winnipeg landfill for the remains of two Indigenous women police believe ended up at the site after they were murdered by an alleged serial killer.
The PCs framed it as “standing firm” in the face of an expensive and potentially dangerous effort. Critics argued it was a cold-hearted campaign promise at best, and a racist ploy at worst.
Cindy Woodhouse, Manitoba’s regional chief in the Assembly of First Nations, said the PC’s downfall reflects a changing Canada.
“Reconciliation is a priority in this country,” she said in an interview Wednesday. “I think it signals that we’re turning a page.”
Gary Doer, who served as the premier of Manitoba between 1999 and 2009, said that while some Manitobans may be proud that the province is about to have a First Nations premier, they favoured Mr. Kinew because of his policies.
“The history is very heartfelt for many of us,” the former NDP leader said. “But the platform is what seals the deal at the ballot box.”
Voters, Mr. Doer said, wanted change and Mr. Kinew, who took over Manitoba’s Official Opposition six years ago, offered that.
“He won on his platform.”
David McLaughlin, the chief executive of the Institute on Governance who ran the Manitoba PC election campaigns in 2016 and 2019, attributed Mr. Kinew’s win to the NDP’s discipline. He said Mr. Kinew’s status as Canada’s first First Nations provincial premier will garner him more attention and power in the national arena.
“It will give him and his province more relative influence in the federation,” Mr. McLaughlin said. “He’s going to be listened to earlier than he might have been if this had been another Manitoba premier.”
The NDP victory breaks up the alliance of right-leaning provincial premiers spanning from Alberta to the Maritimes, and could give Prime Minister Justin Trudeau an ally in Western Canada.
“It is a good thing to have another progressive Premier across the country that we’re going to be able to work with on issues of affordability, issues of housing, issues of reconciliation,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters.
The Globe and Mail, October 4, 2023