Manitoba election brings mix of outcomes for NDP

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Image: Wab Kinew/Facebook

The Manitoba provincial election was both good news and bad news for New Democrats. The good news was that although the total number of NDP seats only rose by four over the last election, many more new NDP MLAs were elected, creating what may well be one of the more inclusive and diverse political caucuses in the land. The good news was that NDP Leader Wab Kinew acquitted himself well, and conducted himself with admirable dignity and calm in the face of relentless negative Tory ads about his troubled past.

The bad news was that despite the fact that Premier Brian Pallister broke the fixed election law by going to the polls a year earlier, and after privatizing significant public assets, showing contempt for labour and collective bargaining rights, and devastating the health-care system with chaotic cuts, he was comfortably re-elected. Clearly, as one might have expected from looking at Manitoba's political history, it was just too soon for most folks to return to the NDP after their 17 years in office that ended in 2016.

The Tory government of Sterling Lyon from 1977 to 1981 continues to hold the recent record for a one-term government in Manitoba, but it is important to note that in 1977 the NDP was not reduced in numbers the way it was in 2016, or 1988, after which it took Gary Doer three elections and 11 years to bring the NDP back into government.

Having said this, perhaps the really bad news from the Manitoba election is the possible negative legacy of the nasty Tory ads about Wab Kinew's troubled past, a past which he wrote about extensively in his book The Reason You Walk, and one that he overcame and transcended through an embrace of Aboriginal spiritual traditions.

The bad-news legacy I am pointing to here is not political. There was evidence that many Manitobans were turned off by the ads that saturated the evening and late-night news broadcasts, although it is hard to imagine that they had no effect at all. The bad-news legacy of the ads is not personal for Wab Kinew. If anything, his calm dignity in the face of the ads and his refusal to take the bait by responding has increased his stature. And it is unlikely that in the next election the Tories will see much advantage, if any, in repeating this shameful tactic.

The bad-news legacy I have in mind is the message the Tory ads sent to every young person, and particularly young Indigenous youth, who are trying to turn their life around -- and the message the Tory ads sent to families who are trying to encourage young persons in their families to turn over a new leaf. The Tory message is basically: "Forget it. We will never forgive you. We will never allow you to be a new person with a promising future, especially if you want to assume a leadership role in the community." 

Not a great message.

The irony of course, given the support that Tories get from religious conservatives, is that such a message could not be further from a key message of the Christian faith. I have been to many prayer breakfasts and other conservative Christian events where celebrating the way people have turned their lives around through rediscovery of their spiritual roots has been front and centre. Seems like Wab Kinew's sin was that he turned his life around as a result of recovering his Indigenous spiritual roots, and then to top it off, he became leader of the NDP. Not exactly a manifestation of respect for Indigenous spirituality or a sign of reconciliation. Just more colonial attitude.

Come to think of it, the other bad-news legacy is for Christians themselves, the damage done to a fundamental insight of their faith, and the questions raised about the apparent silence of their leadership when such damage was being perpetrated.

Bill Blaikie, former MP and MLA, writes on Canadian politics, political parties, and Parliament.

Image: Wab Kinew/Facebook

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