WINNIPEG - Former finance minister Greg Selinger is the new NDP leader and Manitoba's new premier-designate.
Of the 2,003 votes cast, Selinger won about two-thirds of the delegates. His challenger, Steve Ashton, won 685 votes. One ballot was spoiled.
As outgoing Premier Gary Doer watched from the dark corner beside the stage, and as all 35 NDP MLAs gathered around the podium, Selinger thanked his supporters and family.
"We will govern with warm hearts and cool minds," Selinger told the crowd. "I have no doubt we will all work together in the best interests of Manitobans."
Selinger, who won 1,317 votes, said the vote marked the party's renewal and he paid tribute to Ashton and Minto MLA Andrew Swan, who dropped out of the race early on. Selinger said it was a sobering experience to watch Ashton sweep more than 100 delegates in The Pas.
Though hundreds of delegates sported orange Selinger T-shirts, Ashton got a standing ovation from the audience during his concession speech. He asked the convention to make Selinger's leadership the unanimous choice of the convention.
The leaders of Manitoba’s opposition parties said the results were what they expected. Both Progressive Conservative leader Hugh McFadyen and Jon Gerrard, head of the Liberals, were quick to take their hats off to the premier-designate.
"I wish him well," McFadyen said. "He certainly deserves some time to celebrate and savour his victory."
Added Gerrard: "Congratulations to Greg Selinger. He had the support of the cabinet and the old guard of the NDP."
Before the voting began, the two candidates gave rousing speeches to the assembled delegates.
After a standing ovation for outgoing Premier Gary Doer, who laughingly tried to get people to sit down after several minutes, Alex Forrest, president of the firefighters union, nominated Ashton.
Forrest made a direct appeal to labour delegates, asking them to make up their own minds at the ballot box. Many union presidents have endorsed former finance minister Greg Selinger.
"Steve has been the unashamed champion of worker’s rights in this province for over 25 years," said Forrest, citing Ashton’s support for anti-scab legislation. "Do not let this opportunity for labour pass you by."
Ashton’s daughter Niki Ashton, the MP for Churchill, seconded Ashton’s nomination.
Speaking without a podium and without notes or a teleprompter, Steve Ashton drew on many of the same themes of his stump speeches during the campaign. He challenged party members to create an inclusive party that gets back to its social-justice roots.
Ashton noted that, if he won, he’d be Manitoba’s first premier from the north.
"We know what it’s like to be left out," said Ashton, widely seen as the race’s underdog. "If you put your confidence in me, I will be a premier for all Manitobans."
He touted his links to labour and said he will work to improve aboriginal people’s lives and womens’ rights and would keep the province’s water supply public. Drawing on the legacies of former premier Ed Schreyer and Howard Pawley, Ashton said it was time to improve the province’s social equality.
"There is no reason why we cannot achieve social and economic justice for our population," said Ashton. "What I talked about in this campaign are real substantive ideas, some of them new, some of them tried and true, but all aimed at renewing the party."
Despite his energetic speaking style, it was clear most people in the room were Selinger supporters. Almost exactly one-quarter of the room gave Ashton a standing ovation at the close of his speech.
But, Ashton had hundreds of delegates in satellite voting sites in Thompson, and in the closing days of the race he closed in on Selinger’s delegate count lead.
After Ashton's speech, it was Selinger's turn to take the stage.
Following a slick video featuring the lead singer of local rock band The Weakerthans, Selinger waded through the crowd of supporters, shaking hands and accepting hugs, acting every bit the victor though the ballots had not yet been cast.
"My notes said remember to smile but it’s pretty hard not to with a crowd like this," said Selinger.
After looking back at the tough slog the party had following the defeat of former premier Howard Pawley, Selinger touted his successes as finance minister: cutting the small business tax, balancing the budget and seeing the province’s population and economy grow.
"Our government has turned this province around," said Selinger.
Selinger was nominated by Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Minister Eric Robinson, who spoke in Cree, and Sarah Zaharia, a young New Democrat. His campaign video featured several cabinet ministers, community activists and John K. Samson from The Weakerthans, all promising that Selinger was ready to lead.
Selinger delved deep into policy wonkery, promising to improve provincial immigration programs, child care funding and touting community groups like the Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre.
He also threw in some partisan punches at the Tories, especially former premier Gary Filmon’s government in the 1990s that saw cuts to education and health.
"We cannot go back to those days we cannot go back to those days," he said.
And he said the Tories should not assume Doer’s departure means the party is split or weakened.
"They could not be more wrong," said Selinger.