Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 29/9/2017 (911 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
I have spent the good part of my adult life studying and observing politics. Yet I still find myself caught off guard at the level of hypocrisy that is all too often displayed by our politicians and political parties.
Take, for example, Premier Brian Pallister’s stubborn refusal to be direct with Manitobans over questions related to his use of private email servers and vacations in Costa Rica, in spite of his electoral promises to bring greater accountability and transparency to government. Or, more recently, the suggestion of a health care "premium" (read tax) by the Progressive Conservatives — the very party that promised tax cuts and continually accused the NDP of having a spending rather than a revenue problem in the last election campaign.
The Manitoba NDP, however, has taken hypocrisy to a whole new level by choosing Wab Kinew as its new leader.
What is so disappointing is the extent to which Kinew’s supporters in the NDP seem willing to park their principles at the door in their rush to make excuses for him.
To say that Kinew has a troubled history is putting it mildly. Here we have an individual whose past actions include convictions for drunk driving and assault, theft charges, as well as a pattern of hurtful, misogynistic and homophobic outbursts on social media, the latest of which occurred five years ago when Kinew was 30 and old enough to know better.
And then, of course, there are the two domestic violence charges against him involving his former common-law wife, Tara Hart. Not only did Kinew fail to mention these particular charges in his autobiography, when asked about them by the media, his response was to downplay, deflect and deny that the events ever happened.
This goes to the heart of the problem I have with Kinew and his supporters. It is not about redemption, or second chances, or a person’s ability to change. Nor is it about witch hunts driven by a media community that refuses to accept the idea of an Indigenous premier in Manitoba (and by the way, we already have had two Indigenous leaders in Manitoba — Louis Riel and John Norquay).
New Democrats can try to spin this all they want in their attempts to reframe the narrative and justify the actions of their new boss. But the simple fact remains that as long as Kinew refuses to be fully honest with Manitobans — and to tell the whole story concerning his past, not just the bits and pieces and part truths that he feels like telling — it is hard to believe that he is indeed a changed man who is willing to accept full responsibility for his actions.
And until Kinew treats voters with the respect we deserve by being upfront with us, so we can make informed judgments of our own, these questions will continue to dog him. This is how it works in a democracy.
So Kinew has a choice: either come clean with Manitobans or be prepared for more questions. You can’t have it both ways.
What is so disturbing is the apparent willingness of New Democrats to put aside their own moral compass in their attempts to defend that which is simply indefensible.
As a political party committed to social justice, the NDP has staked much of its ethical high ground over the years on issues related to gendered violence, and in particular violence against Indigenous women.
But by choosing to support Kinew’s version of events over those of Hart, the NDP’s current message is "we believe survivors, just not this one."
That the party and its new leader seem to be OK with this forked-tongue approach on such an important issue will only perpetuate the climate of silence, shame and ostracism that stops women who have been assaulted from coming forward.
It’s easy to claim you stand in solidarity with victims of violence when the stakes are low. It’s another thing when you are in a position of power to effect real change but choose not to.
I choose to believe Tara Hart. Why? Because there is no credible reason not to. Ms. Hart didn’t ask to be thrust in the spotlight; she was sought out by the media only after the domestic violence charges became publicly known.
By telling her story, she has been revictimized all over again, and subjected to such vicious online attacks that it’s easy to see why 70 per cent of all cases of gender-based violence go unreported. And, quite frankly, given Kinew’s past behaviour, it’s not that much of a leap to believe her version of events.
I also choose to believe Ms. Hart because when I look at my own daughter, who as a young Métis woman is 3.5 times more likely to suffer from violence at some point in her life compared to her non-Indigenous friends, I want her to know that believing survivors involves more than a trendy hashtag.
Tara Hart, like all victims of gender-based violence, deserves better than this from Kinew and the NDP.
In fact, we all do.
» Kelly Saunders is an associate professor with the department of political science at Brandon University. firstname.lastname@example.org