Manitoba NDP leader accuses PCs of exploiting ‘tense interaction’ as an opportunity to attack his character

Manitoba NDP Leader Wab Kinew admits his conduct wasn’t perfect during a run-in with cabinet minister Obby Khan on Thursday, but alleges the events that followed were twisted by the Progressive Conservatives for political gain.

Kinew has denied cursing and shoving Khan at a public event at the legislature, saying instead there was only a “tense verbal exchange” and it wasn’t the time and place for it. 

The NDP leader appeared on CBC Manitoba’s Up to Speed on Friday, where he alleged the Tories’ reaction is politically motivated. 

“Mr. Khan, I take him at face value that he’s upset that we had a tense interaction and I won’t speak for him, obviously he can describe his emotional reaction to that,” Kinew told host Faith Fundal.

“But I’m sure that once he shared that with the PC team, then the political staff jumps in and then it becomes an opportunity to take shots at me.”

WATCH | Full interview with NDP Leader Wab Kinew denying Obby Khan’s accusations:

Manitoba NDP leader responds to allegations he swore at, shoved PC minister

5 hours ago

Duration 13:12

Opposition Leader Wab Kinew spoke to CBC Manitoba Up To Speed host Faith Fundal about allegations he used profanity and shoved Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Obby Khan during a public event at the legislature.

Kinew said he expected to be the government’s target in the lead-up to a scheduled October vote.

“I think we all know that the PCs are not going to be able to run an election campaign on health care, or on their failures in government,” he said.

In response, a spokesperson for the Tories said they “wholeheartedly reject the assertion” they played up the exchange.

“Minister Khan spoke truthfully and sincerely about the incident, while Mr. Kinew, who has a record of insincere apologies and being less than honest, admitted his conduct was poor and his exchange was tense,” the party said in a statement.

“This is just another example in a series of inappropriate behaviours that highlight character deficiencies unbecoming of an elected official.”

Khan, the minister for sport, culture and heritage, declined CBC’s interview request Friday, saying, through a spokesperson, he’s said his piece and he’s “moving on.”

He told reporters at an unrelated media event on Friday that his account of the events is true and he’d like a “heartfelt apology” from Kinew.

Thursday’s confrontation happened in the rotunda of the legislature, where the NDP hosted a gathering to mark Manitoba’s first Turban Day. A party banner was used as a backdrop behind the speakers.

The two politicians acknowledged Kinew expressed frustration that Khan made partisan remarks during his speech — he told the ceremony there should have been PC and Liberal banners put up as well, because the issue was non-partisan — but otherwise their accounts had few similarities.

“The leader of the Opposition pulled me in and said, ‘You piece of s—-. How dare you politicize this f—-ing event. What you did is f—-ing wrong,”‘ Khan told the chamber on Thursday.

“I’m emotionally shaken by this. I wasn’t expecting that — intimidation attempts, insulting language and … when we left the handshake, there was a shove in the stomach.”

WATCH | Khan accuses Kinew of inappropriate behaviour (WARNING: contains offensive language):

Obby Khan’s statement on Wab Kinew’s comments

1 day ago

Duration 2:14

Part of the statement made during question period by Obby Khan, Manitoba’s minister of sport, culture and heritage, regarding remarks allegedly made by NDP Leader Wab Kinew at a Turban Day ceremony earlier in the day. Warning: Video contains offensive language.

Kinew said the NDP banner was in place because the party organized the event but welcomed people from other parties. He said there was no abusive behaviour during his exchange with Khan.

“My colleague [NDP MLA Mintu Sandhu] was beginning to speak, and so I turned and said we should listen,” Kinew continued.

“At no time was there any swearing. At no time was there any name calling. And the interaction was of words exchanged, albeit tensely, over a handshake.”

CBC News has asked the PCs to produce videos or photos of the run-in, but none were provided. The handshake occurred off to the side, away from the view of most cameras. CBC News didn’t witness the exchange.

The Tories, though, issued a statement from cabinet minister Andrew Smith, who said he saw the interaction from across the rotunda. “While I did not hear the words Mr. Kinew said, the interaction was awkwardly close and clearly uncomfortable. Something was very ‘off’ about it.”

A man stands in front of a podium to answer media questions.
Obby Khan, seen here at his byelection victory party in 2022, said he’s looking for a ‘heartfelt apology’ from Kinew. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Several NDP MLAs, who were seated near Kinew, wrote in social media posts they witnessed no aggressiveness. Khan’s accusations are “baseless and unbecoming,” Nello Altomare said on Twitter. Lisa Naylor tweeted Khan’s accusation “plays on racist tropes.”

The NDP invited several school classes to the event.

Reanna Korade, a teacher at Arthur E. Wright School in Winnipeg, said she watched the entire exchange because she felt Khan’s political comments, expressed minutes earlier, were out of place.

Korade, who said she isn’t an NDP supporter, said she saw no testiness or shoving, but only overheard someone say “time or place” and didn’t hear their entire discussion. It appeared to be a pleasant conversation, she said, though Khan looked agitated when he returned to his seat.

Political scientist Christopher Adams said the allegations are disconcerting.

“This is something that’s been brewing for quite a while over the past number of years in the assembly,” he said, saying decorum in the legislature continues to decline.

PCs continue to attack Kinew’s past

The adjunct professor of political studies at the University of Manitoba said the Tories can use this alleged altercation to fuel attacks Kinew hasn’t changed from his troubled background, which includes past run-ins with the law.

“I have to say Wab Kinew has not behaved according to those characterizations” by the PCs. He has “in many ways built up this reputation with the Manitoba electorate, but with this incident yesterday is an opportunity for the PCs to get back into those accusations,” Adams said on Friday.

He said dredging up aspects of Kinew’s past — or, in this case, a present-day allegation — may resonate with some swing voters, particularly women, a majority of which support the NDP, polls suggest.

“You can bet right now, or leading into the election, there are focus groups going on … to see how they respond to different messaging.”

The NDP has been ahead of the governing Tories in provincial opinion polls for two years, but the gap narrowed to six percentage points in the Probe Research poll from March, down from 11 points in December.

The Tories continue to reference Kinew’s earlier years during question period. It is usually devoid of specifics, but not always: On Thursday, before Khan’s complaint, finance minister Cliff Cullen listed off Kinew’s previous criminal charges after the NDP leader questioned Premier Heather Stefanson’s personal wealth.

Kinew has openly admitted to a conviction for impaired driving and for assaulting a cab driver in his early 20s — offences for which he has received pardons.

He was given a conditional discharge in 2004 for an assault in Ontario, and was charged with assaulting his partner in 2003. The latter charge was stayed, although his former partner maintains Kinew threw her across the room.

Kinew has repeatedly apologized for his behaviour and denied the assault claim of his former partner. When previously questioned, he has said he’s a changed man.

Speaker investigating

In the chamber on Thursday, Khan raised his version of events as a matter of privilege — an issue where a politician’s ability to perform their job is interfered with.

Speaker Myrna Driedger said she would make her decision at a later date, but it’s unclear if she can reach any conclusion as to what happened. 

The dispute between Khan and Kinew stems from a disagreement over the politicization of the event.

Adams argued the event was inherently partisan because it was organized by the party, and said the NDP’s decision to put its party banner in a prominent location made it more so.

“If I were the minister, if I’d seen that banner or whatever, I probably wouldn’t have stood at that microphone,” Adams said, but he acknowledged Khan may have felt an obligation, as culture and heritage minister, to attend a commemoration of Sikh and Punjabi cultures.

In February, the NDP held a similar community event to mark Black History Month, but in that case the party banner was placed to the side.

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