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New blood riles NDP old guard

Late arrivals too influential on delegate selection: insiders

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/9/2009 (2831 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Tensions could bubble over this week between the NDP's old guard and hundreds of new members gleaned from the city's ethnic communities by leadership hopeful Steve Ashton.

Before the short, two-week window for membership sales closed on Sept. 17, the former intergovernmental affairs minister signed up hundreds of new recruits, most from the city's Greek, Filipino and Indo-Canadian communities. That could allow Ashton to stack delegate-selection meetings in key ridings with his supporters, who will then elect Ashton-affiliated delegates to the Oct. 17 leadership convention in Winnipeg.

NDP leadership candidate Steve Ashton

RUTH.BONNEVILLE@FREEPRESS.MB.CA

NDP leadership candidate Steve Ashton

The strategy was widely noted among party insiders who expected Ashton to bus in his new members to delegate-selection meetings in order to secure votes. But until a meeting last week in the Rossmere riding, that strategy hadn't quite panned out.

Early on, Ashton won nearly all 15 delegates in the small riding of Tuxedo by taxiing in a handful of voters from the Greek community at the last minute. But two busloads of Ashton supporters who also arrived at the last minute at the meeting in Gimli only dented former finance minister Greg Selinger's near-sweep there.

Ashton's strategy of wooing new members worked better Thursday in Rossmere, thanks to a slate that came almost entirely from the city's East Indian community. Thirty-nine of the slate's 41 names were Indo-Canadian.

That prompted some off-the-record grumbling from party members and resistance from the riding's executive, which fielded its own slate of candidates "who have demonstrated a long-standing commitment to our constituency and our party."

Those included former MLA Harry Schellenberg and union icon Al Cerilli. About 13 of those names were also on Selinger's slate. They all lost to Ashton's slate, meaning Ashton picked up 41 more delegates able to vote directly for him at the convention.

The same dynamic could be at play this week at several big meetings, including in Inkster and the Maples, where Ashton has signed up hundreds of new members but where there is a stalwart party establishment who may feel slighted if they are unable to win delegate spots. Selinger has also signed up many new members in the Maples.

Fort Whyte could also be one to watch. The riding, never an NDP hotbed, has nearly 400 new members, most of them Ashton's and many of them from the Indo-Canadian community.

Ashton supporters say he has made a concerted effort to woo the grassroots instead of relying on support from longtime New Democrats or young government staffers. Instead, after a decade where party membership rolls were kept deliberately small, Ashton has reached out to people whose quiet support has kept the party in office for the last decade.

"These are people who have always voted NDP but no one bothered to sign them up," Ashton spokesman Sel Burrows said.

Burrows said Ashton also has long-standing support of the city's taxi drivers, many of whom are Indo-Canadian. When Ashton was transportation minister, he worked with them to make plastic safety shields mandatory in city cabs.

Others say Ashton's strategy might backfire.

In some ridings, such as Selkirk, Ashton sold memberships but didn't manage to get his recruits to the meetings, which had the unintended effect of bolstering Selinger's delegate count.

Others note Ashton has all but ignored ridings such as St. John and St. Vital. There were virtually no Ashton organizers at those meetings last week. That could cost Ashton votes at the convention when delegates will be under pressure to reconsider their first choice, or where second-ballot choices could make or break a candidate's fate.

"It's a dynamic we're really aware of," said Selinger campaign spokesman Todd Scarth, referring to the balance between new members and old. "It's one that Greg really wants to be on the right side of."

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

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