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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) – Wab Kinew will soon be the first First Nations premier in Canadian history after voters in Manitoba elected a New Democratic Party government on Tuesday.
Late on Tuesday, CBC projected Kinew’s NDP won 30 seats out of Manitoba’s 57 electoral districts, enough to form a majority government. The Progressive Conservatives (PCs) garnered 19 seats and the Liberals were reduced to one, with seven races still too tight to call.
The NDP will replace the Conservatives, who had ruled the prairie province since 2016.
“This is a great victory for all of us in Manitoba,” Kinew told supporters at NDP campaign headquarters Tuesday night. “We can do amazing things when we stand together as one province.”
Kinew, expected to be sworn in as premier in the coming days, will lead the province with the highest proportion of Indigenous residents in Canada according to the 2021 census.
Kinew, 41, worked in Winnipeg as a television reporter, performed rap music and served as a university administrator before winning a seat in the Manitoba legislature in 2016. He became NDP leader a year later.
His win may help Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whom Conservative premiers have opposed, according to Kelly Saunders, associate professor of political science at Brandon University.
But Kinew told Reuters in an interview last week that while he wants a collaborative relationship with Trudeau, he will also stand up for Manitoba. The province relies mainly on hydro-electric power and Ottawa should recognize such low-emissions electricity in how it charges its carbon tax, Kinew said.
He said becoming the first-ever First Nations premier would show Canada is changing for the better.
“When my father was a young man, he was not allowed to vote. And today I have the honour to ask the people in this province to vote for our team,” he said.
“That is a testament to our province and country moving forward. Long way to go, but you cannot tell me that we haven’t made progress.”
It was not until 1960 that the Canadian government passed legislation giving all First Nations adults the right to vote.
First Nations peoples have higher levels of poverty and incarceration than other Canadians. Earlier generations suffered abuse at residential schools run by the federal government and Christian churches, including Kinew’s late father who said he was sexually assaulted there.
Kinew said he will also press Trudeau on forming a national health-care strategy to prevent provinces from competing to attract staffing.
Kinew’s early run-ins with police dogged his political aspirations, including a 2003 conviction for refusing a breathalyser.
In August, Kinew said facing justice as a younger man helped him to change his life. The Conservatives highlighted his past misconduct repeatedly during the campaign, something Kinew called “a desperate move”.
Kinew’s First Nations ethnicity may put him in a tough spot on some issues as premier, such as development of hydro-electricity that some First Nations people have opposed for its impact on their land, said Real Carriere, an assistant professor at University of Manitoba who specializes in Indigenous politics.
“It’s a very challenging role to be a First Nations premier. He’s going to be pulled in different directions.”
(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; editing by Denny Thomas and Marguerita Choy)