WINNIPEG — When indigenous activist and author Wab Kinew officially launches his bid for the leadership of Manitoba's New Democrats this week, he will try to take the helm of a party struggling for money, unity and public support.
Kinew, who is 35 and was first elected to the legislature last April as a star candidate for the NDP, has been talking openly about putting together a leadership bid for months.
He will make it official Monday with the backing of some heavyweights from factions of the party that have been fighting since 2014.
Advisers to former premier Greg Selinger such as John Loxley and Todd Scarth are backing Kinew. So are Eugene Kostyra and Anna Rothney — advisers to Theresa Oswald, a former cabinet minister who led a failed coup against Selinger in 2014.
Wab Kinew drums during the Walk for Reconciliation in Gatineau in 2015. (Photo: Justin Tang/CP)
The coup divided the NDP prior to the April 2016 election that saw the party ousted from power and reduced to 14 legislature seats.
"I've tried to reach across different camps, if you will, or different fault lines because I do think it's important for the party to have unity now,'' Kinew said this weekend.
The leadership race will be decided in mid-September. Kinew's support in caucus includes fellow rookie legislature member Nahanni Fontaine, he said.
The only other person who has confirmed a leadership bid so far is Michelle McHale, a social-justice activist who sits on the executive of the Manitoba Federation of Labour. She joined the party only a year ago and has not attracted any major endorsements.
A controversial candidate
Kinew was a controversial candidate in last year's election because of misogynistic and homophobic rap lyrics and social media posts that surfaced from his past. He also has convictions for impaired driving and assaulting a taxi driver, for which he was recently granted pardons, he said.
Kinew repeatedly apologized for his actions and postings. He discussed his criminal convictions in his 2015 memoir "The Reason You Walk.''
Rothney noted Kinew's misogynistic and homophobic feelings — some of which were expressed on social media as recently as 2011 — are in the past.
"One big question for me was, is he a totally different person? I feel very comfortable that that is true,'' Rothney said.
Kinew said he has no more skeletons in his closet and he is prepared to continue to own up to his past. He also expects the governing Progressive Conservatives will launch attack ads on him if he wins the NDP leadership.
The Tories will have plenty of money for such ads if they choose to go that route. New figures from Elections Manitoba show the Tories raised $1.9 million last year via donations and fundraising — more than triple the amount raised by the NDP.
NDP donations dropped
The New Democrats saw their donations and fundraising revenue drop by more than 30 per cent last year, to $571,000.
The gap may be more important than ever in the next election in 2020 because the Tory government has introduced a bill in the legislature to increase limits on political donations and advertising.
Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said the Tory advantage is likely to lead to heavy advertising against whoever wins the NDP leadership.
"If the leader represents the party and you're able to attack that leader's credibility or trustworthiness, then you've got an advantage.''
The NDP's president, David Woodbury, said new fundraising efforts are underway. The party is optimistic more people will take out memberships this year to vote in the leadership race and, hopefully, stay on as the party unites.
"There's no question we have to do better this year,'' Woodbury said.
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