Mike McKinnon is a senior consultant at Enterprise Canada. He has advised NDP premiers, governments and campaigns across the country.
When Wab Kinew is officially sworn in as Manitoba’s premier, he will make history – a First Nations person will become leader of a province for the first time. When he does, one aspect of his leadership is sure to follow a proud Prairie tradition passed down from Roy Romanow to Gary Doer, Rachel Notley and now Mr. Kinew. Manitobans can expect their premier-designate to join a long line of pragmatic and (mostly) popular NDP governments on the Prairies.
At its core, Prairie pragmatism is about the values close to the hearts of all social democrats. Values are acted upon in a common-sense way, reflecting that what matters to people living in Brandon or Balgonie, Sask., isn’t quite the same as those in the GTA.
The commitment to social justice never wavers, but it’s backed up by folks who show they’re in touch with people working in barns and in boardrooms, people meeting in the union halls, or those serving the community in our hospitals and classrooms.
As the dust settles on this campaign, analysts are quick to point to the Progressive Conservative brain trust’s decision to “stand firm” against searching a landfill for the remains of two murdered Indigenous women – it became the centrepiece of their closing argument to voters. While an important moment to be sure, and one that should live in voters’ memories for a long time, it wasn’t what delivered an NDP victory.
Mr. Kinew’s NDP won because his campaign focused on the issues that mattered most in the lives of Manitobans. He united voters behind common-sense solutions to the health care crisis and ways to save families money on their bills – a far better bet when some polls showed they were the top issue on the mind of more than half of Manitobans before advance voting got under way.
Another piece of the PCs’ scattershot attack-ad campaign tried to paint Mr. Kinew as a third wheel to the federal Liberal-NDP agreement in the House of Commons. A silly notion, given that the premier-designate will be more likely to follow the examples of Mr. Romanow in Saskatchewan and Ms. Notley in Alberta, leaders who fought back when they found their provinces infringed upon by Ottawa. Though only one won successive elections, both earned admiration across political lines for their principled stands and pragmatic style of progressive governance.
Of course, the shining example of Prairie pragmatism hails from Manitoba in Mr. Doer. The former premier won three straight elections for the NDP and left office in 2009 as one of the most popular Canadian premiers ever. He could read the public mood like few others, giving traditional New Democrat policy a big-tent appeal. No doubt that, after sitting on the sidelines of politics since leaving office, Mr. Doer’s endorsement of Mr. Kinew (and agreement to serve as a volunteer adviser to an NDP government on Canada-U.S. trade) helped sway some voters who had drifted away from the NDP in the past two elections.
Like the stalwart social democrats on the Prairies before him, Mr. Kinew knows the economy of his province plays prominently in the minds of voters, and it’s a task over which Manitobans can expect him to have a steady hand on the wheel. At his media availability the day after winning the election, the premier-designate said, “One of my fundamental beliefs is that the economic engine pulls the social cart.”
The NDP’s commitment to establishing a Premier’s Business and Jobs Council is just one of the ways the new government is likely to build bridges with business leaders. Mr. Kinew is also keen on critical minerals opportunities in Northern Manitoba to produce more of the lithium, cobalt, silica and nickel that the world needs. Executed well, Mr. Kinew stands to deliver major long-term economic wins for Manitobans.
There are still matters requiring urgent and uncompromising decisions, and there’s little doubt Mr. Kinew will take action when needed. The NDP made big promises to end the Tory-inflicted chaos in Manitoba’s health care system. Though Mr. Kinew has long acknowledged that it is far from an overnight fix, he will get right to work on staffing hospitals and creating a universal school nutrition program. He will swing a swift axe to cut the provincial gas tax, saving drivers 14 cents a litre at the pump, one of several commitments to help take the sting out of the rising cost of living in the province. And, of course, he has rightly committed to the long-overdue search of the landfill.
As New Democrats savour the taste of victory and prepare for the daunting tasks ahead in government, expect that the man at the head of the table who made history will follow a well-worn path.