Manitoba Elects a First Nations Member as Premier, a Canadian First

Manitoba became the first province in Canada to elect a government headed by a First Nations member on Tuesday, as broadcasters predicted a win for the left-of-center New Democratic Party, led by Wab Kinew, who is Anishinaabe.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation projected late Tuesday night that Mr. Kinew’s party had won a majority of seats in the provincial legislature and would form a government, dislodging the Progressive Conservatives from power after seven years and ousting Heather Stefanson from the premier’s office.

Mr. Kinew, 41, will also be Manitoba’s first Indigenous political leader in 145 years. The province had a premier of Métis heritage in the 1870s; Métis people are Indigenous, but not First Nations members.

Several of Canada’s most prominent Indigenous public and political figures have come from Manitoba, and its capital, Winnipeg, has the largest Indigenous population of any Canadian city. During the campaign, Mr. Kinew rarely emphasized Indigenous issues, focusing largely on broader concerns, like access to health care.

Several political analysts said Mr. Kinew’s victory depended, in part, on moderate Progressive Conservatives’ fears that their party was shifting too far to the right under Ms. Stefanson. She argued during the campaign that Manitoba should be exempted from the federal carbon tax, a keystone of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s climate program.

Mr. Kinew, who has been a CBC television host, a journalist and a rap artist, also had to address episodes from his past, including criminal charges, after facing attack ads from the Progressive Conservatives, as well as third-party groups.

Mr. Kinew, who has acknowledged that as a young man he struggled with addictions, was convicted in 2003 of impaired driving, and in 2004 of assaulting a taxi driver. He eventually was granted a record suspension, effectively a pardon, for both convictions.

One conservative political group sent a text to voters “reminding everyone who loves Manitoba to avoid electing Wab Kinew (a convicted criminal) and the N.D.P. this fall.”

After Mr. Kinew became leader of the New Democrats in 2017, it emerged that he had also briefly faced two charges in 2003 for assaulting his girlfriend at the time. A few months after those charges were brought, prosectors decided not to proceed with them, and Mr. Kinew has strongly denied the assault allegations.

In August, Mr. Kinew said that the Conservatives and their supporters “think I’m running from my past, but actually, my past is the reason I’m running.”

He added: “If we as individuals can find a way to walk a better road, then our province can do it, too.”

The Conservatives’ campaign was the first led by Ms. Stefanson, who became premier after being selected as the party’s leader in 2021. That internal vote was unusually divisive, with one of her rivals unsuccessfully challenging the result in court.

As party leader and premier, Ms. Stefanson, who has spent most of her career in politics, succeeded Brian Pallister. He was known for running the province, which has bitterly cold winters, for weeks on end from Costa Rica and working through faxes because he disliked email.

Mr. Kinew, who projects a folksy style, was able to cast himself as an everyman and his opponent as an out-of-touch patrician. In the legislature, Ms. Stefanson represents an affluent part of Winnipeg known as Tuxedo. Last year, she apologized for failing to disclose real estate sales totaling 31 million Canadian dollars, or $23 million, by a holding company in which she is a director and shareholder.

An issue that resonated with Indigenous voters became the focus of the campaign in its final days. The Conservative government had refused to allow a forensic search of a privately owned landfill where the police believe the remains of two Indigenous women were placed by a man facing four first-degree murder charges, including the killings of the two women. The partial remains of one victim had been recovered from another landfill.

Indigenous people across Canada have been calling for the search, but on a billboard and in newspaper ads, the Conservatives repeated their opposition to one, arguing that it would be dangerous for workers and unlikely to find any remains. The tactic sparked an angry backlash from many Indigenous people.

Speaking with reporters on Monday, Ms. Stefanson defended her rejection of a search.

“In this role as premier, you have to make those difficult decisions,” she said. “We believe that Manitobans need to be informed about where the various political parties stand on this issue.”

The New Democrats and Manitoba’s branch of Canada’s governing Liberal Party both support a search. The federal government has said that it cannot act without the provincial government’s approval.

Manitoba’s first Indigenous premier, John Norquay, who was of Métis heritage, assumed the office in 1878 because of a retirement, then led his government to victory in an election later that year. The province did not formally have political parties then.

Several years earlier, before Manitoba was formed as a province, another Métis leader, Louis Riel, led a largely Métis resistance movement that led to the formation of a provisional government, which he headed and which Canada viewed as illegal. Following many setbacks and an armed struggle further west, Mr. Riel was convicted of high treason and hanged.

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