A troubled past or the path to reconciliation?

Wab Kinew would be the first Indigenous leader of Manitoba; a record number of Indigenous candidates are on Tuesday ballot

Manitoba voters will decide this week on a new government -- and a Native leader is running for the top post.

Wab Kinew, Anishinaabe, a former journalist, a hip hop artist, and the leader of the New Democratic Party is one of four candidates seeking to form the next provincial government. In Canada voters pick a party, after that, the party with a majority (or a combination of parties) then becomes the government. The Progressive Conservative Party is now the ruling party and the current premiere is Brian Pallister.

Kinew was elected leader of the official opposition in 2016 after winning a seat in the Manitoba Legislative Assembly. (To put that into U.S. terms: It’s the same as serving in a state legislature and the premier is a parliamentary version of a governor.)

This election raises all sorts of questions about Canadian politics -- including Indigenous representation. There are more Indigenous candidates running for legislative seats than ever before, led by some 17 candidates for the New Democratic Party.

There remain deep divisions in Manitoba.

Pallister recently said that Kinew grew up with all those government benefits. He told the Thompson Citizen newspaper, Kinew “was handed more benefits than any premier in the last 60 years in this province.”

Pallister also says he’s the candidate who grew up in a home without indoor plumbing. That’s why he hates taxes and is so pro-development. And now? Critics say that Pallister lives in a mansion has a vacation home in Costa Rica.

Then this is the polite campaign. There is a nasty version, too.

A conservative campaign also directly attacks Kinew for his troubled past and tells voters that he is “a risk that we cannot afford.” One video asks: Did Kinew ‘try to intimidate his ex-common-law wife about the domestic assault allegations she made against him?" Another complaints challenge the circumstances around an assault of a taxi driver -- a criminal act for which Kinew has been pardoned. And Kinew’s critics say there has not been a full accounting of the domestic violence incident involving the former partner.

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Screenshot of a Conservative YouTube video.

But the conservative ads also demonstrate a double standard in the era of Donald Trump (or in Canada, Doug Ford) who as candidates remained unapologetic about their past.

Kinew talks about his journey and how that led him to where he is today as a person and a candidate. Kinew told the Ottawa Citizen: “When I was being self-destructive, when I was partying too much, when I was getting in trouble with the law, there was family, community and spirituality.” It’s that idea that he says is essential before reconciliation.

Kinew also says the attack ads make it easier to talk about his journey and who he is today. He says this election is about the healthcare crisis in the province. He has pledged to reverse some of the budget cuts made by conservatives and to hire and train more nurses, add hospital beds and reopen emergency rooms.

Manitoba has never elected an Indigenous Canadian as its premier and Kinew is the first from a tribal community to serve as the opposition leader.

The election is Tuesday.

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Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports

Cover photo: Wab Kinew on the campaign trail. (Photo via Twitter)

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