It's been called the NDP's Bermuda Triangle, and it could claim another sitting MLA this weekend.
More than 2,400 New Democrats will gather Sunday in The Maples riding to nominate their candidate for this fall's provincial election. In most other ridings, the sitting MLA would be rubber-stamped, but Maples NDP MLA Mohinder Saran is facing an unusual challenge from two sides.
Jaswinder Sandhu, who works in the trucking industry for CN Rail, is hoping hundreds of party members he signed up during the 2009 leadership race will help catapult him to victory Sunday. Sandhu, a supporter of cabinet minister Steve Ashton's failed bid for the leadership, says he now has more than 1,000 new or renewed members, and most of them will presumably support his bid for the nomination.
For his part, Saran said he has sold nearly that many memberships himself and was confident he could hang on to his party's nomination. He said a nomination race and healthy membership rolls are good for the party because it solidifies a base of active members going into this fall's general election. Saran said he wasn't surprised to be challenged.
"It's a democratic process," he said. "Anyone has the right to be an MLA."
Meanwhile, former MLA Cris Aglugub is hoping for a rematch against Saran this Sunday. In an even messier nomination battle in late 2006, Saran beat Aglugub for the party's nod and went on to win the 2007 election. But the nomination battle sparked a complaint to Elections Manitoba that then-premier Gary Doer's chief of staff bullied and intimidated a third candidate in order to clear the way for Aglugub. Elections Manitoba investigated and found no wrongdoing, but the allegations lingered for months at the Manitoba legislature.
There are at least four ridings in the midst of hot nomination battles that appear to be hangovers from the leadership race. Two incumbents, Saran and rookie Concordia MLA Matt Wiebe, are facing internal challenges from Ashton supporters. There are several candidates running for the NDP nomination in the new Tyndall Park riding and some have speculated St. Norbert MLA Marilyn Brick chose to retire rather than face a tough nomination battle in her riding.
Asked whether challenging a sitting MLA threatens to foment divisions in the party on the eve of a provincial election, Aglugub noted that Saran was the first to challenge a sitting MLA. Aglugub said he was encouraged to run by supporters in both the Filipino and Indo-Canadian communities.
The Maples is the most diverse riding in Manitoba. Just over 43 per cent of residents are Filipino, South Asian or another visible minority tracked by Statistics Canada.
Since the leadership race, the city's Indo-Canadian community has flexed new political muscle within the NDP, also adding to the spate of nomination battles this spring.
Sandhu said he's been very pleased with the way the party has managed the process in the Maples but said it's important the party "hold on to the trust of those members."
Better way to vote
THE provincial NDP hopes a better way to vote will avoid the chaos that reigned in the Maples during the 2009 leadership race.
Back then, the Maples was the scene of one of the most controversial and cramped delegate selection meetings. Hundreds of new members, most from the city's growing Indo-Canadian community, jammed into a neighbourhood school to cast their ballots for leadership hopefuls Steve Ashton or Greg Selinger. Some got shut out and the meeting took hours.
At Sunday's nomination vote, the party will test-drive a preferential ballot for the first time. Party members will be able to drop in any time during the day to vote, and ballots will ask members to rank each candidate in order of preference. That avoids what could be a daylong voting process, assuming one of the three candidates doesn't get a majority on the first ballot.
The three candidates for the nomination support the system, saying it's much easier for members. The party will likely also use a preferential ballot in the nomination meeting in Concordia May 29.