After a painfully chaotic evening of voting, former finance minister Greg Selinger appears to have a very early lead in the race to be premier.
Selinger, who is battling two other candidates for the NDP leadership, won at least 29 out of the 42 delegates up for grabs from three ridings Sunday evening. Steve Ashton won most, if not all, of the rest.
But even that tally was unofficial. As party staff and die-hard supporters milled around comparing numbers at press time, it appeared Selinger had won all 18 delegates from Assiniboia and most of the delegates from Charleswood. However, there was talk of a tie-breaking re-vote to determine some or all of the delegates from Tuxedo, even though most of the party members had long abandoned the meeting and gone home.
The night began better than it ended.
About 200 party members from the three west Winnipeg ridings gathered in a local community club for the first of a flurry of delegate selection meetings slated for the next two weeks.
Sunday night's meeting was jammed with people -- many of them NDP staffers working for candidates and working out the kinks in their delegate selection meeting attack plans. It was a loud and informal affair, where each riding split off into a different corner, heard short speeches from delegates, strained to hear instructions from party staff and then voted on photocopied ballots amid the chaos of plastic chairs scattered all over the hall. At one point, an angry member who said he hadn't received a ballot hollered at longtime party insider Wayne Copeland before storming out, only to return moments later and get his ballot.
A hopefully less confusing version of the meeting will be repeated in each of the province's 57 ridings between now and early October as the party selects as many as 2,000 delegates and moves slowly toward Oct. 17 to elect the party's new leader and the province's new premier.
Out of the meetings, some of which are expected to be massive and raucous, it should slowly become clear who is leading the race to succeed Premier Gary Doer, who resigned late last month to become Canada's ambassador to the United States.
Sunday night was the candidates' first chance to test-drive stump speeches they'll be giving every night at delegate meetings all over the province.
Ashton, who has reportedly sold roughly 4,000 memberships, positioned himself as the successor to former NDP leaders Howard Pawley and Ed Schreyer, widely considered more traditionally socialist than Doer.
He pledged to fight for working people and the poor by tackling affordable housing, poverty and crime.
He also pledged to win the Tory-held seats of Tuxedo and Charleswood in the next election.
"We've had pretty darn good government in Manitoba for the last decade," Ashton told the crowd in a rambling but energetic speech. "But, to quote Randy Bachman, watch out because you ain't seen nothing yet."
Selinger, who has been finance minister for the last decade, cast himself as the steady hand on the rudder of an economy just emerging from recession.
He talked about greening the economy and boosting graduation rates, especially among aboriginal people.
Andrew Swan, the rookie of the three and the former training and trade minister, gently touted his relative youth and plans to lead for the long-term. He pledged to support neighbourhoods and communities and create a stand-alone housing ministry to bring together services scattered across different departments. He said he'd do better at preventing chronic and mental illnesses and addictions.
HOW YOUR PREMIER WILL BE ELECTED
Only about one per cent of Manitobans, those who are NDP members, will choose the next premier. Here's how it will work:
In each riding, members gather for a meeting to elect delegates. The three candidates for leader may attend to make a speech, but many meetings are on the same night, so it will be interesting to see where the candidates choose to go.
Well-organized campaigns hand out a list of their slate of delegates. If you are a staunch supporter of one of the three candidates, your job is simple -- you just vote for the slate.
The delegates also get to make short speeches. Some will make it clear, through words or campaign buttons, that they support a certain candidate, but a few say they are undecided. If a campaign is on the ball, no wishy-washy delegates will get elected.
Delegates then mark their ballots, drop them in the white boxes and the vote is counted -- a painfully fussy process. A lot of this happens amid a dull roar of chit-chat, gossip and frenzied party staff.
Other groups -- unions, NDP-supporting city councillors, MPs and MLAs, the youth wing -- get a set number of delegates as well.
On Oct. 16 and 17, delegates will gather at the Winnipeg Convention Centre to vote. It may be fairly clear by then who has the most committed delegates, but be ready for surprises. If it's clear one candidate won't win on the first ballot, jockeying for the support of the third-place finisher could get intense. Delegates can also change their minds mid-way through the campaign, or secretly vote for someone else.
SELINGER WINS KEY UNION ENDORSEMENT
Paul Moist, the national president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees will endorse Greg Selinger today. Moist, who has worked with Selinger since the early 1990s when the former finance minister was a city councillor, is among the province's best-known and most respected union leaders.
So far, though, Andrew Swan has hoovered up much of the formal union support. A source close to Selinger's campaign said Moist's personal endorsement will give rank-and-file union members some leeway to vote contrary to their union's formal endorsement.
Super Thursday: The informal name for a cluster of delegate selection votes slated to take place Thursday in 13 different ridings. The nickname is a play on Super Tuesday, the day in the American primaries when 24 states have votes.
Plumping: A way of concentrating your vote. The term dates back to the earliest days of American politics and even the British Parliament. If a voter is entitled to choose 10 delegates, but really favours only one, he can avoid diluting his vote by just marking one tick on the ballot for his favourite. The practice is not allowed by the NDP. Ballots that aren't marked with a vote for the total number of delegates allowed are void.
The Flora Syndrome: Named after pioneering Tory MP Flora MacDonald, it's when a candidate's delegates evaporate when it comes time to actually vote. In the 1976 federal Tory leadership vote, MacDonald was seen as a top contender, but her committed delegates didn't come through. At the time, it was thought to be sexism. Now, the term has come to mean the tendency of polite Canadians to commit their vote because they are too nice to say otherwise.