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Questionable Questions in Manitoba’s Political Race

March 20, 2016 9:15 AM | Columns

By Kate Jackman-Atkinson, myWestman

Wab Kinew

Wab Kinew, Manitoba NDP candidate for Fort Rouge, listens as Premier Greg Selinger responds at a news conference in Winnipeg, Friday, March 11, 2016 to Liberal party allegations of “hurtful” tweets of Wab Kinew’s which have surfaced online. When the Manitoba NDP announced it was nominating broadcaster, author and indigenous activist Wab Kinew to run in a Winnipeg riding, it was hailed as a brilliant move that could breathe new life into a party at risk of being swept from power. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods)

NEEPAWA, Man. — With the provincial election now in full swing, we got yet another reminder of how a candidate’s past comments on social media can come back to haunt them. Last week, two candidates found themselves facing tough questions over questionable things they have previously said, or tweeted.

Just hours after Liberal candidate Jamie Hall announced on March 2 that he would be running in Winnipeg’s Southdale constituency, the NDP hosted a press conference demanding his resignation. It turns out they found some derogatory tweets referring to women as “whores” and “skanks.” He tried to play the humour card, saying the tweets were meant to be humorous. He also argued that he wasn’t a sexist because, “I have countless friends that are women — my girlfriend, my mother, my sister, my grandmas who are no longer with me.” I’m sure his grandmas enjoyed these words of wisdom: “If a whore screams in the bedroom and no one is around to hear it, is she really a whore?”

By March 3, Hall had resigned and Liberal leader Rana Bokhari accepted his resignation saying, “Manitobans have every right to expect and demand a high standard of their candidates and MLAs. We are Liberals and we hold ourselves to a higher standard. It’s what Manitobans expect and demand.”

Later in the week, NPD Fort Rouge candidate Wab Kinew came under fire for homophobic and misogynist tweets, as well as lyrics from his rap songs.

Kinew published a book last year, called “The Reason You Walk,” in which he apologized for his past mistakes, including some of his lyrics. He was quoted by the Winnipeg Free Press as saying, “I think I’ve been very up front about the fact that I’ve changed the way I view things and recognize there’s no place for misogyny… especially given the issue of missing and murdered women and gender-based violence.”

Hip hop is notorious for its misogynistic and homophobic lyrics and once a song is recorded and released, there’s no going back. Like newspaper stories, these words are forever a part of a the public sphere. Regardless of the sincerity of his apology, there’s nothing he can do about these recordings.

But then there are the tweets. The tweets which have drawn criticism include offensive comments, such as: “Is it true you can get [H1N1] from kissing fat chicks?” and “[Wab Kinew] Is going to wrestling class….Because jiu-jitsu wasn’t gay enough”. As well as those that were in bad taste, including one from 2012 which read, “Riding in my limo back to my king sized sweet feeling really bad for those kids in Attawapiskat.” This was posted while the community was in crisis and Attawapiskat chief Theresa Spence was fasting in protest of terrible conditions on the reserve.

Like Hall, Kinew pleaded humour, saying that the tweets were meant as satire. Humour and satire are a great way to draw attention to important issues, but it generally works best when the disadvantaged group isn’t the butt of the joke.

As of this week, Kinew remains in the race and is likely to stay that way — the NDP released a statement, saying, “We are proud that he is running to be the next MLA for Fort Rouge because Wab’s actions show that change is possible and that we can fight for the vision of Manitoba that we all hold in our hearts – one that is inclusive, loving and safe.”

This isn’t something new, each election features at least one candidate forced to resign over social media missteps. All this has an effect on voters. A March 12 poll by Mainstreet Research found that of 1,764 potential voters sampled from across the province, 40 per cent said that embarrassing or offensive messages online are a “very important” factor in whether they would lend their support to a candidate.

This brings us to yet another question, who is vetting these candidates and preparing them to represent their party? In both cases, it took the opposition parties about five minutes to find these tweets, which were still on the candidates’ feeds. Did no one check before hand? That might be an even greater cause for concern.