Manitoba's NDP chooses Wab Kinew as new leader

Wab Kinew beat out three-time leadership candidate and former MLA Steve Ashton 728 votes to 253 to take leadership of the Manitoba NDP on Saturday.

Race was between high-profile Kinew, veteran politician Steve Ashton

Fort Rouge MLA Wab Kinew looks out into a raucous crowd of supporters with his wife standing by his side after winning the Manitoba NDP leadership race in Winnipeg Saturday. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Manitoba's New Democratic Party has elected Wab Kinew as its new leader.

Kinew beat out three-time leadership candidate and former MLA Steve Ashton 728 votes to 253 at the party's leadership convention in Winnipeg on Saturday.

"It's a new day for the NDP and it's a new day for Manitoba," Kinew declared in his acceptance speech.

"[I will do] the very important work of uniting the Manitoba NDP."

A total of 1,032 delegates from across the province came to Winnipeg for the leadership convention at RBC Convention Centre.

Wab Kinew is the new leader of Manitoba's NDP. (Cliff Simpson/CBC)

Kinew said the past few years have been challenging for the NDP but praised members for coming back together to support the party and oppose PC policies.

"There is a place for you in this party and I will be your leader as well," he told those who voted for Ashton.

Kinew was a high-profile candidate and rookie MLA, first elected in 2016. The former CBC broadcaster is an author, rapper and Indigenous-rights activist.

But Kinew has been surrounded by controversy ever since he launched his first political campaign last year.

During that campaign, he apologized for misogynistic and homophobic song lyrics he wrote as a rapper. Shortly after that, tweets he had sent years earlier making fun of gays, lesbians, First Nations children and overweight women came to light.

This week, Kinew's ex-partner came forward saying he threw her across a room in 2003, leaving her with rug burn on her legs. Domestic assault charges were laid but later stayed by the Crown, and Kinew denies the allegations.

During his speech before the vote Saturday, Kinew acknowledged the domestic assault charges almost immediately.

'A man can heal,' supporter says of Wab Kinew

6 years ago
Duration 1:02
One of Wab Kinew's supporters said she understands from first-hand experience that "a man can heal" and change, despite having dark chapters in their past.

"I'm sorry," he said to victims of domestic violence who may have been hurt by media coverage recently and to those who have stood up for him in the last few days.

Kinew apologizes for past actions

"I am not the man I was. I have apologized and I am sorry. But that is not enough … every day I will work hard to earn your trust," Kinew told delegates.

Kinew also took shots at the current government, led by Conservative Premier Brian Pallister. "Somehow, friendly Manitoba ended up with a mean premier," he said.

He then promised a jobs plan, improvements to education and repeals to a health-care premium plan floated by the PCs this week.

At Saturday's convention, Kinew supporter and domestic violence survivor Carmen Nedohin said she has questioned Kinew on his past and felt his answers were sincere.

Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew vows to help post-secondary students fight tuition hikes

6 years ago
Duration 0:51
Newly-minted Manitoba NDP leader Wab Kinew vowed to help university and college students fight tuition hikes after his win Saturday in Winnipeg.

"I would not be supporting him if I didn't absolutely feel confident in my heart that he's the right guy, and gave me honest and truthful answers," she said, adding she's been with the party since the '80s

"He's not only atoning for the decisions he made, but he's trying to be a better person every day."

Nedohin compared Kinew to former NDP leader Gary Doer. "When we took a kicking back in the day and Gary Doer came in, he brought people together, and I find that exactly is what Wab has. He has that same ability to really listen and be inclusive."

Third time not the charm for Ashton

Ashton was no stranger to politics, with decades of experience under his belt as an MLA and cabinet minister for the province.

Carmen Nedohin said she questioned Wab Kinew about domestic abuse allegations. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

But Ashton is not currently an MLA. He lost his seat in Thompson — which he'd held since 1981 — last year to Progressive Conservative Kelly Bindle.

Saturday's vote wasn't his first attempt to win leadership of the party — he's run unsuccessfully twice.

The veteran politician also got involved in the Kinew controversy, saying his rival didn't go far enough to explain his past domestic assault charges — something one political expert thinks may have been a mistake.

"Mr. Ashton got his hands dirty as well. It probably would have been better for him just to stay out of it," University of Manitoba political studies professor Royce Koop told CBC Friday.

The allegations against Kinew should be talked about, said Ashton supporter Jim Bardy at the convention Saturday.

"There's other stuff going on that's kind of mind-boggling," he added, wondering why the allegations from Kinew's ex-partner only came out this week.

Jim Bardy supported Steve Ashton. (Sean Kavanagh/CBC)

There was no mention of Kinew during Ashton's 25-minute speech Saturday, however.

Instead, Ashton recited the "successes" of the NDP over the past several years and also took aim at the possible PC health-care premium plan. "Pallister, if you bring it in, we're going to get rid of it."

Ashton pledges $15 minimum wage

He also questioned the premier's visibility during crises, especially in his response to the flooding of the Churchill rail line.

"There are more sightings of sasquatches in the north than Brian Pallister," Ashton told the crowd.

Ashton pledged to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, to reject the "Uberization" of Manitoba's economy and to oust Pallister after one term.

Steve Ashton tries to persuade party faithful into voting him in as NDP leader Saturday. This is the third time he has run and lost a bid for the position. (Bryce Hoye/CBC)

Bardy said he has supported Ashton through the veteran politician's previous two leadership runs, and said Ashton has been fighting for a long time.

"Some people think that's a problem," he said. "On the other hand, if you didn't learn anything in those 30 years, that'd be a problem. But if you did learn a lot of stuff, not just what to do, but sometimes what not to do ... that's where I come from, in terms of my personal support for Steve."

Koop said the revelations about Kinew's past have tainted a leadership race that should have been a great time for the NDP.

"It really is kind of the worst possible outcome for the party."

The NDP had been without a permanent leader since last April, when former Manitoba premier Greg Selinger resigned after the PCs crushed his government, ending 17 years of NDP government in Manitoba.

NDP MLA Flor Marcelino (Logan) has been acting as interim leader for the party.

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With files from Sean Kavanagh, Austin Grabish, Bryce Hoye, Elisha Dacey