The Hamilton Spectator

Wab Kinew has a winning formula


It’s easy to despair at the state of political leadership in Canada these days.

Judging by how they act, you’d think politician­s believe the key to success is making as many people as angry as possible — at the other guy.

But there is another way and it’s on display in one of the country’s most overlooked provinces (Manitoba) where NDP Premier Wab Kinew, who sat down with the Toronto Star’s editorial board last week, is trying something different. It’s a combinatio­n of attitude and policy that might be summed up as sunny centrism. Those other politician­s should look and learn.

The sunny part is obvious. Kinew won five months ago with a message of hope and unity that contrasted sharply with the angry, divisive tone set by his Conservati­ve opponents.

He’s still in the honeymoon phase of his mandate and he’s still insisting that, contrary to the depressing daily discourse on social media, “Canadians are hungry for a positive message.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau famously won big in 2015 while preaching “sunny ways,” a promise long lost in the years of division and discord since. No doubt the glow around Kinew will fade as his government makes decisions that disappoint some people — perhaps starting with its first budget in early April.

But for now, at least, Kinew is showing by example that positivity can still work. His diagnosis is that the pandemic was “a very divisive, bruising experience” that left people angry and frustrated, which in turn infected social media and political life as a whole. But now, he told the Star, “I think Canadians are sick of it.”

Let’s hope he’s right.

But Kinew’s appeal is more than just attitude, and more than the obvious fact that he’s the first Indigenous premier in modern times (Manitoba did have a Métis premier, John Norquay, way back in the 1880s).

He’s charting a course that’s quite different from what might be expected from a progressiv­e politician these days. He campaigned, for example, on a couple of promises that (to quote another newspaper) “might have been cherrypick­ed from a Conservati­ve platform” — cutting gas and diesel taxes to zero and freezing electricit­y rates.

That was part of an effort to show what Kinew described as “the blue-collar worker — the average middle-class person — that somebody who is climatefoc­used is still on your side during this period of economic pain.”

He’s also cool to the consumer carbon tax and has asked Ottawa to remove it from home heating fuel, though unlike some other premiers he isn’t pounding the table about that.

Kinew has also taken a middle-of-the-road approach on fighting crime. He’s well aware of the so-called root causes of crime, including poverty and addiction, but he wasn’t going to allow his Conservati­ve opponents to paint him as “soft on crime” because of that.

His government has actually toughened bail conditions and he’s adamant he can be both tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime.

That could well be a conservati­ve position, or at least an oldstyle Progressiv­e Conservati­ve position.

And then there’s the message of personal responsibi­lity that runs through the lessons Kinew draws from his very public battles with addiction and the justice system. Before last October’s election he made an outstandin­g speech in which he stressed that while troubled people deserve second chances, it’s ultimately up them to change their lives for the better.

Progressiv­e politician­s wondering why their message doesn’t resonate with people so much anymore should listen to Kinew. Whether you call his approach sunny centrism or just traditiona­l prairie populism, it’s a winning formula.

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