WINNIPEG – Author, Indigenous rights activist and now star political candidate Wab Kinew is facing questions on the Manitoba election campaign trail about lyrics he wrote and performed that are demeaning to women and gays and lesbians.
Kinew has apologized repeatedly and without reservation over the last two years, but some political opponents, as well as some on social media, say the 34-year-old’s transformation is very recent and came soon before his entry into the political arena.
“To be clear, I apologize fully for these lyrics, accept responsibility for them and am committed to helping bring about the societal change necessary to end misogyny, address gender based discrimination,” Kinew wrote on Facebook on the weekend.
“I have been called to account by my wife, my sister, my mother and other friends and colleagues for my own biases. I have heard these truths and concluded that I need to change my behaviour to be a more positive influence on the world around me.”
Kinew is running for the governing NDP in the Fort Rouge constituency in Winnipeg. While the NDP has plummeted in opinion polls since raising the provincial sales tax in 2013, Fort Rouge has been a party stronghold, represented recently by former finance minister Jennifer Howard who is not seeking re-election in the April 19 vote.
Last week, the NDP criticized Jamie Hall, a Liberal candidate in another constituency who posted several social media messages in which he used terms such as “whore” or “skank” to refer to women. The Liberals dropped Hall, but also pointed to Kinew’s many uses of similar language in his music career that stretched into his very early 30’s.
In one song when he was in a rap group called Dead Indians, Kinew talked of slapping female genitalia and used a slur for gay men.
In songs both with the Dead Indians and his later solo career, Kinew repeatedly used derogatory words for women and their body parts. In a 2009 recording, he talked of sexual conquests, chasing skirts and of having made “panties drop.”
Kinew’s turnaround appears to have come sometime around 2014. He apologized for his lyrics at an aboriginal music awards ceremony that year, and called on other hip-hop musicians to do the same. He apologized again in his 2015 memoir “The Reason You Walk,” and has apologized twice more in recent days.
NDP Health Minister Sharon Blady, who lashed out at the Liberals over their former candidate’s offensive language, said she accepted Kinew’s apology and pointed to his actions in recent years, such as fighting for an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women.
Kinew has generally received positive feedback on social media, although some people have questioned whether his apology was part of a strategy to clean his image before entering politics.
Kinew is running against Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari and Progressive Conservative Audrey Gordon for the Fort Rouge seat, and the NDP have high hopes that he will keep the seat orange and prevent Bokhari, a political rookie, from gaining a legislature seat.
An opinion poll done by Strategic Communications, commissioned by the New Democrats, suggests Kinew is a strong contender, although it has a wide margin of error.
The poll, obtained by The Canadian Press Sunday, suggests Kinew has 33 per cent support in the constituency, compared to 23 per cent for Gordon and 15.5 per cent for Bokhari. Fifteen per cent were undecided and 13 per cent said they would support another party or independent candidate.
The random automated telephone survey involved 293 respondents in Fort Rouge last Thursday — just as the debate over Kinew’s lyrics took shape, and is considered accurate to within plus or minus 5.7 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
The Liberals said Sunday they had yet to do polling of their own in Fort Rouge, but were getting positive feedback on the doorstep.
“There’s still a lot of people that are identifying as undecided. But typically, when they say they’re undecided, the last thing they say is ‘But not the NDP’,” said Liberal spokesman Mike Brown.