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Swan out, backs Selinger's NDP leadership bid

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 WINNIPEG — NDP leadership candidate Greg Selinger has picked up his biggest endorsement yet -- he’s now backed by his former competitor, Andrew Swan.

Swan suddenly bowed out of the three-way race on Monday and directed his support to Selinger.

The contest to become Manitoba’s next premier is now between Selinger and Steve Ashton, who picked up dozens more delegates this weekend.

Swan said he decided to quit after delegate support for his campaign evaporated in The Pas.

"I simply wasn’t able to gather as many supporters as I would have liked," Swan said. "When you do the math, it simply didn’t create a pathway for me to be where I wanted to be.

"I was very disappointed," he added. "I was surprised. There’s no hiding that."

Swan said he’s throwing his support behind Selinger as the former finance minister is the better man to lead the NDP into the next provincial election in 2011.

"I’ll do everything I can to have my delegates and my supporters and anybody else support Greg Selinger," Swan said. "I believe he’s the best person to keep our party moving in the right direction."

Swan’s decision to quit is being seen by some as an orchestrated move by the party’s establishment to keep Ashton out of the premier’s office. Ashton has surprised many by his strong showing so far not only in the north, but in Winnipeg, too.

"When he (Swan) says he’s looking at the numbers, I don’t think he was only looking at his column," University of Manitoba political studies professor Jared Wesley said. "I think he was looking at his least preferred candidate surging in numbers and looking for a way to prevent his least favourite candidate from becoming the next premier."

Swan bristled at the suggestion his stepping down was part of an "anybody but Ashton" tactic.

"My decision today is anybody but McFadyen," Swan said, referring to Opposition Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen.

But he did say his decision to quit was designed to give him as much time as possible before the Oct. 17 leadership vote to woo more support Selinger’s way.

"I think it is more useful to have me doing that with 19 days left in the campaign than half an hour on a convention floor where things can get pretty animated," he said.

Swan, the former competitiveness, training and trade minister, returned to the legislature almost immediately to continue sitting as the MLA for Minto.

He declined to directly answer whether he’d get a more high-profile position in cabinet should Selinger become the next premier.  Swan, a lawyer, is considered by some likely to replace Dave Chomiak as the next attorney general.

"The assurances have actually been informal between all three of us," Swan said. "Between Steve Ashton and Greg Selinger and myself, we’ve made it clear among each other that whatever happened in this, the other two would continue to be an important part of this government."

Selinger said he was disappointed Swan took himself off the ballot.

"I think it’s really important that we have many voices in the campaign," Selinger said. "I know he’s made a personal decision. It’s a tough choice for him. I respect that. However, I thought he made a positive contribution to the campaign, and I believe he will be missed."

Selinger added that even with Swan’s support the race to replace Premier Gary Doer has tightened up.

"I do not think this race is over by any means," he said. "We will continue our campaign of working closely with people, explaining what we stand for and hopefully garnering their support of going forward. But I take nothing for granted."

Ashton said wins over the weekend at constituency meetings in The Pas, Flin Flon and his home riding of Thompson have vaulted him to the lead in delegate support.

"Our campaign has ignited enthusiasm across this province," he said. "My prediction is that over the next number of days, watch out, you’re going to see continued support for our campaign, our grassroots campaign, perhaps our underdog campaign."

Ashton also did not apologize for signing up hundreds of new members, largely from the Greek, Filipino and Indo-Canadian communities, in an attempt to take key ridings — an effort that seems to have riled some party insiders.

"I’ll be upfront. This is the new Manitoba. We said from Day 1, we’re going to reflect the diversity of this province in everything we do. And that includes our campaign."

Swan added he did not blame the NDP’s new rules—picking delegates to represent party members instead of one member-one vote—for choosing a new leader as the reason for his abbreviated campaign.

"It was the same rules for everybody," he said.

He also said his saw no shame in quitting early.

"In curling, if you know what the result’s going to be even if there’s a couple of ends, there’s is no dishonour in taking off your glove and shaking hands."



Updated on Monday, September 28, 2009 at 12:38 PM CDT: Updated after Swan announcement.

3:16 PM: Adds Ashton claiming lead in leadership race

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