News / Canada

Author and politician Wab Kinew defends speaking fees, travel; eyes Parliament

Wab Kinew, right, Manitoba NDP candidate for Fort Rouge, listens as Premier Greg Selinger at a news conference in Winnipeg, Friday, March 11, 2016. Author and broadcaster Kinew says he is scaling back his nationwide speaking schedule now that he is a member of the Manitoba legislature, but still plans to tour occasionally and is to give a speech this weekend that will pay him about $7,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Wab Kinew, right, Manitoba NDP candidate for Fort Rouge, listens as Premier Greg Selinger at a news conference in Winnipeg, Friday, March 11, 2016. Author and broadcaster Kinew says he is scaling back his nationwide speaking schedule now that he is a member of the Manitoba legislature, but still plans to tour occasionally and is to give a speech this weekend that will pay him about $7,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

WINNIPEG — Author and broadcaster Wab Kinew says he is scaling back his nationwide speaking schedule now that he is a member of the Manitoba legislature, but still plans to tour occasionally and is to give a speech this weekend that will pay him about $7,000.

"I don't want to have any perception of me trading on my name as a public official to do speaking engagements for money," Kinew said in an interview this week.

"I think it's still appropriate to do events where I'm not compensated ... or to do things that are unrelated (to the political role), where people are bringing me out because I'm an author or because of some experience I've had."

Kinew, 34, was a sought-after speaker long before he was elected as a member of the Opposition New Democrats in April.

Having served as associate vice-president of indigenous affairs at the University of Winnipeg, he was promoted through an agency as offering expertise on indigenous issues and education. He also received critical praise for his 2015 memoir "The Reason You Walk" about the effects of residential schools on his father.

Kinew said he has asked the agency to stop promoting him on its website and has cut his speaking engagements to a handful from about 30 a year. But that number may increase when his next book, currently in the planning stages, is released, he said.

His speech this weekend, at a peace and justice conference held by a college in Nelson, B.C., was booked a year ago and was a commitment he wanted to keep after being elected, he said. He is also scheduled to speak — for free — at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver next Thursday. 

Saskatchewan New Democrats are touting Kinew as a guest speaker at their annual convention next month.

The fees charged by Kinew do not violate any laws or legislature rules. They are a fraction of the amount that landed Justin Trudeau in hot water when he was a rookie member of Parliament. In 2013, Trudeau promised to pay back charities that had paid him to speak.

One political analyst said the speaking gigs still could rub some voters the wrong way.

"The problem is that being a (legislature member), being a representative, is supposed to be a full-time job, and they get paid to do a full-time job," said Royce Koop, who teaches political studies at the University of Manitoba.

"So the question is, 'Where do you get the time, the energy, to do this kind of moonlighting?'"

Premier Brian Pallister ran into controversy during the spring election campaign for spending time away from his Winnipeg constituency. The CBC reported that Pallister had spent almost one in five days at his vacation home in Costa Rica since 2012.

Kinew said he is dedicated to his political work and meets regularly with residents in his Fort Rouge constituency in Winnipeg.

He is not ruling out a run for the NDP leadership next year, although he is "first and foremost" focused on learning the ropes of being a legislature member.

Eventually, he said, he would like to run for Parliament.

"I would like to get involved in federal politics someday. But ... my youngest son is eight years old, and I don't anticipate making any moves before he's 18."