Manitoba's Opposition NDP leader says he would not reduce funding for police if his party wins the upcoming provincial election.

Wab Kinew is rejecting accusations from the governing Progressive Conservatives that he is soft on crime and in favour of defunding police. 

Premier Heather Stefanson made the accusation in a recent state of the province speech to the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, while promoting her party as being tough on crime.

Stefanson has also bolstered her messaging on public safety in recent months, and has announced new measures including a police unit to focus on apprehending violent offenders.

Kinew, in a year-end interview with The Canadian Press, said he would maintain funding for police services

He says a NDP government would also add funding for mental health supports so that some calls currently being handled by police can be handled by others.

"I do think that we need to invest in mental health supports, we need to invest in social programs so that we can have a future in Manitoba where we have a mental health worker who shows up for a mental health call, a social worker who shows up for a social work call," Kinew said.

"And that would free up law enforcement resources to respond to the law enforcement calls."

Crime has become a major topic in provincial politics in recent months. Winnipeg has seen a record number of homicides this year, including the deaths of four Indigenous women, allegedly at the hands of a serial killer.

At the same time, calls to cut police funding have grown. In the recent Winnipeg mayoral election, some candidates promised they would freeze or reduce police funding and redirect money to social programs that could address some of the root causes of crime, such as poverty and homelessness.

Kinew said he understands concerns about public safety and accused the Progressive Conservatives of adding to the problem by cutting some social programs

"Certainly there is an important role for law enforcement to play when we're talking about safety in the community," Kinew said.

"And I think one of the things that's really been overlooked under the PCs is this is all happening under their watch."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 27, 2022.