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Ashton pleads for fair play

Panel rejects complaint about delegate selection

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NDP leadership candidate Steve Ashton appealed to grassroots New Democrats Thursday to use their sense of fair play when voting for a new premier tomorrow.

Ashton's plea came hours after an independent panel rejected his complaint that non-union party members have been awarded union delegate status despite what's outlined in the NDP's constitution.

The awarding of union delegate credentials to non-union members has been an embarrassment for the NDP in its first leadership convention to use the delegate system instead of one-member-one vote.

"I'm going to be appealing for fairness from the delegates," Ashton said. "I may not be able to stop this from happening, but I certainly will be looking to people to say this is wrong, it's unfair, unfair to the process, and certainly unfair to candidates in the process."

At issue is how the Manitoba Federation of Labour and its affiliated unions have redistributed unfilled union delegate spots to party members who didn't win a delegate position in a constituency meeting or party stalwarts who just want to attend the convention. About 80 to 90 unfilled union spots became available last week when large unions couldn't fill them with union members, mostly because many union members aren't NDP members.

The party's constitution says the union delegate positions can only be filled by members of the same union.

Ashton filed a complaint with the party because many of the so-called "rental delegates" are supporters of leadership candidate Greg Selinger. Late Wednesday, Ashton learned his complaint had been rejected. No reasons for the decision were given.

"How on earth can we go into a leadership convention with people that are going to show up as affiliated union delegates who quite clearly have no connection to unions?" Ashton said. "We need a fair democratic process here. We're selecting not just a leader, we're selecting the next premier of the province."

"It may potentially affect the result," he said. "I guarantee you one thing. If I'm premier we won't go through this process again in the form it's in."

Selinger said Thursday it's up to the MFL and its affiliated unions to decide who their delegates will be at the convention. "What's important is that people want to be involved (in the party) and that we work off of that. The more people that want to be involved the better it is."

A spokesman for Selinger later said that the former finance minister accepts the decisions of the party's independent rules committee. "While the leadership selection process has not been perfect, we are confident it has been fair -- and the independent rules committee has consistently agreed with that view," the spokesman said in an e-mail. Kevin Rebeck, newly elected president of the MFL, said unions have differing means for selecting delegates.

At the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), where he served as Manitoba president until Thursday, priority was given to executive members and staff, followed by retired members and activists.

"Yes, some of them are no longer CUPE members. But we feel that they've represented and have been elected or worked on behalf of working people for years and deserve that ability (to be delegates)," Rebeck said.

CUPE, Manitoba's largest union, received 120 convention spots, using all but 30, which it forwarded to the MFL.

Ashton said he has no problem with retired union members being delegates. He said his issue is with party members not picked as delegates at the constituency level showing up at the convention as union delegates.



Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 16, 2009 A6

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