CBC Forum

How clean should a political candidate's past be?

Just like last year's federal election campaign, the ongoing campaign in Manitoba has led to calls for candidates to step down because of comments they've made on social media — sometimes years in the past. How clean should a political candidate's past be?

1 NDP candidate under fire in Manitoba; 1 Liberal candidate has already been dropped

Wab Kinew, NDP candidate for Fort Rouge, apologized for using misogynistic words in his previous hip-hop music in his book The Reason You Walk. (CBC)

Just like last year's federal election campaign, the ongoing campaign in Manitoba has led to calls for candidates to step down because of comments they've made on social media — sometimes years in the past. 

New Democratic candidate (and former CBC broadcaster) Wab Kinew has said he'll continue to run for a seat in Fort Rouge, despite calls from the province's Liberals to step down over derogatory and misogynistic tweets Kinew made during his time as a hip-hop artist.

Earlier in the campaign, the Liberals cut ties with candidate Jamie Hall after inappropriate tweets he made a few years ago about "whores" and "skanks" surfaced. 

And during last year's federal campaign, a long list of candidates either apologized, resigned or were forced out by their party for a wide variety of comments.

Should offensive comments automatically disqualify somebody? Does it matter how long ago they were, what they were about, or if the person renounces them?

How clean should political candidates' pasts be?

Readers let us know in today's CBC Forum — a live, hosted discussion about topics of national interest. 

(Please note that user names are not necessarily the names of commenters. Some comments have been altered to correct spelling and to conform to CBC style. Click on the user name to see the comment in the blog format.)

Several readers spoke specifically to Kinew's situation, some against ...

"I have to say how disappointed I was to read Wab's tweets. I thought he was better than that. Was he was trying to raise awareness about poor housing conditions on reserves with 'humour'? Call them off-hand comments, art, whatever. He said it, he has to own it." — Karen-Denise Cyr

"As unfortunate as it may be to lose good candidates, the only way we can clean up and hopefully change the Twitter and social media culture is to show there are life-long consequences for what people say on the internet. The NDP are being hypocritical to not release Wab." — Kady-Lo

... and others for.

"In Kinew's case he has acknowledged, apologized and taken steps to atone for his past behaviour. He did so without prompting and before becoming a candidate. He has not denied nor made excuses for those behaviours. As a result, I think his case makes him a better candidate, since he took responsibility and demonstrated improvement." — ReverendBlair

"​I think we should treat legislatures with cathedral-like solemnity to give decency a chance to grow in their shadows, and I think Wab Kinew can say and write any damned thing he likes. It neither qualifies nor disqualifies him, no matter if his remarks were gratuitous, truculent, adolescent, and intolerant (or any of a dozen other full-mouthed words). If he was being considered for an appointment then perhaps there might be an issue, but he's going on a ballot and, if he wins, that's just what's supposed to happen." — Papa

Some people demanded their politicians be squeaky clean.

"Candidates and all politicians deserve credit for public service. With that commitment must come heavy scrutiny for the quality of the candidate as well. All candidates and politicians should be held to very high standard given the responsibility they assume." — Concerned Manitoban

Others said forgiveness and context should be considered in many cases.

"Social media conflates the smallest issue such that every politician must mind his/her image to the point of absurdity. I'd like to see a time when a politician can talk freely and openly about his past, good or bad, and the public judges him on his character as a whole, and not on some flippant comment he made on social media 10 years ago.
We feign offense so well that we lose sight of what's really important: good government." — Fresh Outlook

Finally, some commenters said the final decision depends on each individual case.

"I think it depends on the past behaviour. Derogatory, racist and misogynistic comments/actions are hard to forgive since they typically speak to core values of a person. Even if the person was young, core values don't easily change. Things like smoking marijuana or mooning people when they were young, I don't care about those things. We all did silly things." — Larissa

​You can read the complete discussion below.

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