We need more Wab Kinews

It’s not easy to be hopeful in politics right now. Whether it’s the return of Trumpism in the United States, the increasingly polarized discourse here in Canada, or the prospect of a federal election contested by three deeply disappointing leaders, the future isn’t exactly inspiring. That’s why Wab Kinew’s first months as Manitoba’s 25th premier have been so encouraging, and why he could quickly become a role model for other leaders like him.

According to the latest survey from the Angus Reid InstituteKinew is by far the most popular provincial leader in the country. His 63 per cent approval rating is 10 points above the nearest competitor and more than double that of Quebec’s François Legault or New Brunswick’s Blaine Higgs. And no wonder: Kinew brings a combination of powerful public speaking skills, personal charm and political star power that Canada has not seen before outside of Trudeau. As the first First Nations provincial premier in Canadian history, Kinew may have more in common with Barack Obama, who overcame the turbulent history of his own country to become president.

Like Obama, Kinew clearly intends to govern from the center, and his decision to implement a six-month moratorium on the gasoline tax and tighten bail conditions on repeat offenders were important indicators of the political path his government will take. Like Gary Doer, Kinew understands that the path to re-election in Manitoba runs through a middle ground, especially for an NDP government.

But there are other indicators that point to his commitment to creating a government unlike any Manitoba (and Canada) has seen before. Kinew’s cabinet is the most diverse in the country, with a 39-year-old black and non-binary former psychiatric nurse named Uzoma Asagwara as her deputy prime minister. Kinew’s decision to personally take on the role of Minister of Indigenous Reconciliation elevates him to the level of importance he deserves but has rarely been accorded in this country. At a time when efforts to increase representational diversity are being aggressively challenged by the right across North America, the Kinew government offers a useful counterweight.

More than anything, though, what stands out is the positivity that seems to vibrate through Kinew at a molecular level. We live in a political culture saturated with negativity and pessimism, where retribution and revenge seem to have more currency than things like cooperation or caring. And yet, here’s this guy who can’t seem to stop himself from smiling or making predictably awkward (or is it awkwardly predictable?) dad jokes. Sure, part of that is his gimmick, but he still hits like a breath of fresh air in a room full of stale farts.

Like Kinew said he toronto starAndrew Phillips, “Canadians are hungry for a positive message.” He would know. Given his complicated backstory, which includes a couple of brushes with the law, Kinew’s political success is a testament to the possibility (and power) of second chances. As Onigaming boss Jeffrey Copenace said he Globe and mailNancy MacDonald from last November: “Hopefully, this will mark a turning point for some of our young people: to become dreamers, to start thinking about a future, about college or university, or even about becoming the next Wab Kinew.” .

I count on it. I would bet heavily that we are about to see a whole new generation of Indigenous leaders run for public office at the municipal, provincial and federal levels. They will take the lessons they have learned serving in their own communities and apply them to the broader challenges facing the Canadian public. They will enrich and expand our sense of what is possible and the ways in which we aim to achieve it. In time, and hopefully not too long, Canada will have its first indigenous prime minister.

Kinew’s election as Manitoba premier could mark a turning point for non-Indigenous Canadians as well. At a time when it seems like all our political leaders do is find people to fight with, Kinew is showing that there is another way to serve the public interest. “I don’t think people elected us in our province to pick fights with other elected officials,” he told toronto star. “They chose us to do things like cover [prescription] drugs.”

Kinew’s success might even send a warning shot to the proudly petulant Pierre Poilievre, whose leadership ability seems defined almost entirely by his ability to cast blame and start fights. There may not be much at this point that a tired Liberal government or an inept federal NDP can do to reverse Poilievre’s political momentum. But Kinew is showing that there is another way to practice politics in this country, and it’s a way that Canadians find deeply attractive. It’s not hard to imagine some future Liberal or NDP leader applying the same formula to federal politics and using it to topple a future Poilievre government. And who knows, at the rate things are going, he could even be Wab Kinew.

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