Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Ashton big on ideas, not cash for campaign

Federal NDP leadership race

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OTTAWA -- Manitoba MP Niki Ashton may have less money in the bank than some of her opponents, but the hardy northerner isn't letting it push her out of the NDP leadership race.

Quebec MP Romeo Saganash, who was second-last in the fundraising race, dropped out of the contest Friday, citing family needs and a lack of finances.

"People send you good wishes, but they don't send you money," he said in a news release.

Ashton, who raised $7,337 less than Saganash before Christmas, is not following suit.

"My goal is not to be the Mitt Romney of the NDP leadership race," said Ashton. "My goal is not to have a big-money campaign but to focus on innovative ideas and innovative ways of getting them out there."

According to financial filings released by Elections Canada last week, Ashton pulled in $10,215 from 58 donors in November and December last year. It put her dead last among the nine people who started in the race and is less than one-tenth of what the front-runners raised.

About 10 per cent of her total came from herself and her father, Manitoba provincial cabinet minister Steve Ashton. They both donated $600 to her campaign.

Ashton said her campaign has dozens of volunteers and she is utilizing social media and other non-traditional means to get her message out.

She added it's important to remember she was the last candidate to join. She announced Nov. 8, nearly two months after the first candidate -- former party president Brian Topp -- joined.

She also said since the new year "fundraising is growing exponentially."

Ashton has travelled to eight of the 10 provinces, many of them several times. She is focusing a lot of attention on Western Canada and particularly Saskatchewan, which doesn't have any sitting MPs but does have more than 10,000 member votes up for grabs.

To the end of 2011, Topp had raised the most money, with $156,597 from 304 people, followed by Quebec MP Thomas Mulcair with $145,863 from 621 donors. Toronto MP Peggy Nash was third with $108,223. Nova Scotia MP Robert Chisholm dropped out of the contest before Christmas, so there are now six people left. B.C. MP Nathan Cullen, Ontario MP Paul Dewar and Nova Scotia pharmacist Martin Singh are also running.

Ashton, 29, is the youngest candidate in the leadership race and the only one from Manitoba. She said nothing is going to push her out the field of candidates before the March 24 leadership convention in Toronto.

She disputed comments she is running only to raise her profile.

"If I just wanted experience, I'd take a trip or something," she said. "This is a huge undertaking and it's a very serious undertaking."

One NDP insider said by running, Ashton has likely secured herself a position in cabinet as regional minister for Manitoba, if the NDP ever forms government. She has impressed in debates and is fluent not just in English and French but also Spanish and Greek.

Pat Martin is currently the only other NDP MP from Manitoba. He said Tuesday he won't endorse anybody in the race. Previously, Martin said he'd back the candidate who promised some co-operation with the Liberals in order to defeat the Conservatives.

Cullen is the only one who has, however, Martin said he's going to be a panelist for the convention and will remain neutral.

Ashton has banked her campaign on the theme of "new politics," in which she says equality is the goal. That includes equality for aboriginal Canadians when it comes to such things as living standards, education and economics, equality of marginalized groups, equality for young people and new Canadians.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 11, 2012 A12

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