Few barbs as NDP leadership hopefuls square off at University of Winnipeg
Steve Ashton and MLA Wab Kinew vying to lead rebuilding party
The two men running to lead Manitoba's New Democratic Party squared off Wednesday night over which of them is best able to connect to young people and rebuild a party that suffered a major loss in last year's election.
Wab Kinew, a 35-year-old who was first elected last year, declared himself as a fresh face during a leadership forum before some 250 people at the University of Winnipeg.
"We were sent a message in the last election," Kinew said. "The message was the next NDP government has to look different than the last NDP government."
Steve Ashton, a 61-year-old who spent 35 years in the legislature before losing his seat last year, evoked politicians such as Bernie Sanders in the United States and Jeremy Corbyn in the United Kingdom as examples of older leaders who can inspire millennials with a truly left-leaning agenda.
"The future of this party has to be with a bold, progressive agenda. That's how we're going to inspire people," Ashton said.
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He challenged Kinew to match his promises of free tuition for all post-secondary students and an immediate hike in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. Kinew has promised to raise the current $11 wage to $15 by the end of his first term if elected.
Wednesday's forum was the fourth leadership showdown in advance of the party's September leadership convention, when New Democrats will choose a replacement for former premier Greg Selinger.
The leadership campaign has been largely genteel so far, with only an occasional personal dig between the two candidates.
Earlier this month, Kinew's campaign issued an email that appeared to criticize Ashton as a career politician.
Ashton took exception to that at a leadership forum earlier this week in Thompson, Man. He pointed out Kinew has in the past expressed support for federal Tories and Liberals.
"I respect you for joining our party and I would like to ask for you to withdraw those comments," he told Kinew.
"I'm sorry, Steve, but you just don't know when to let it go," Kinew replied. "I'm going to take my minute to talk about health care."