WINNIPEG — NDP leadership hopeful Steve Ashton lashed out Wednesday night at low-grade party grumbling over his strategy of signing up hundreds of members from the city’s Indo-Canadian community.
"I know so many people in this community," Ashton told a standing-room-only crown of almost entirely Indo-Canadian members of New Democrats. "I don’t just go to the community for votes at election time."
Ashton said he is fed up with the undercurrent of criticism that his new members aren’t as committed to the party.
"No one should ever suggest you are second-class New Democrats," fumed Ashton.
The meeting in the stuffy gym at Stanley Knowles School was held to choose delegates from the Inkster riding. It was the latest and most raucous of the 57 delegate selection meetings held in every riding in the run-up to the leadership convention Oct. 17 and it may be repeated Saturday when the Maples holds its vote. That riding has even larger numbers of new Indo-Canadian members and it will send a whopping 138 delegates to the convention.
Since the weekend, some party members have been quietly complaining about Ashton’s overt strategy of signing up hundreds of members from the city’s ethnic communities, including Filipinos and Greeks. That prompted at least one riding executive to field its own slate of candidates, touted as having a "long-standing commitment" to the party.
And, it prompted Selinger to gently suggest earlier Wednesday that it’s important for people who’ve recently joined the party to fully understand the platform.
But Selinger distanced himself from any criticism Wednesday night and instead offered a welcoming message, saying his government would foster inclusive policies like speeding the transfer of foreign educational credentials and ensuring people get health care in their first language.
"This is an exercise in grassroots democracy," he told the crowd. "Your participation is how we will build a stronger sense of citizenship in the province."
Selinger has himself signed up hundreds of new members in the riding, and has the support of many Indo-Canadians, including Maples MLA Mohinder Saran.
Both candidates has slates of delegates that were almost entirely Indo-Canadian.
At least 400 people attended the gathering, and it was an hour late starting, largely because of line-ups to check in with the limited registration staff. About a dozen would-be delegates were stuck in the no-man’s-land between two sets of school doors, shut out of the meeting because their names weren’t on the membership rolls. Coun. Russ Wyatt, who is Ashton’s campaign manager, was in limbo with them, jotting names on a piece of cardboard to convince party staff to let them in.
The Inkster riding will send 71 delegates to the leadership convention — a big number that Ashton is counting on to remain competitive with Selinger, who has the most delegates so far.