Steve Ashton, a longtime pillar of the Manitoba New Democratic Party, has been rejected as a potential candidate in the next general election after its provincial executive upheld a committee decision to bar him from running.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/5/2019 (1110 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Steve Ashton, a longtime pillar of the Manitoba New Democratic Party, has been rejected as a potential candidate in the next general election after its provincial executive upheld a committee decision to bar him from running.

The controversial decision could affect the NDP's chances of retaking the constituency of Thompson, which Ashton represented in the legislature for 35 consecutive years until he was defeated in the 2016 general election by Tory candidate Kelly Bindle.

Ashton's attempt at a political comeback was thwarted when the NDP candidate approval committee recently rejected his candidacy.

Late Tuesday, the party's provincial executive met to hear Ashton's appeal of that decision. It sided with the committee.

The party said the provincial executive's decision is final and cannot be challenged.

"At this time, no further details regarding this matter can be disclosed," the NDP said in a statement.

Steve Ashton, former cabinet minister and longtime Thompson MLA, has been barred from running as an NDP candidate in the next provincial election.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Steve Ashton, former cabinet minister and longtime Thompson MLA, has been barred from running as an NDP candidate in the next provincial election.

Ashton, a former cabinet minister who unsuccessfully ran for the party leadership three times, including a loss to current NDP Leader Wab Kinew in 2017, did not respond to numerous requests for comment Wednesday.

However, Blair Hudson, a member of the Thompson NDP constituency executive who spoke up for Ashton at his appeal Tuesday, said the decision is not going to sit well in the northern community.

"This morning, when I heard the appeal was denied, I was shocked and saddened, frankly," he said in a telephone interview.

Hudson said the local executive, which, coincidentally met Wednesday, passed a motion condemning the party's decision.

"We feel that the people from Thompson should decide who's going to be our candidate unless there's something glaringly bad in the person's background. I've seen the allegations and that's not there," Hudson said.

He would not reveal the party's allegations against Ashton, saying he respected its confidential process. "But I can say I'm disappointed in the reasons."

Sources told Free Press columnist Dan Lett the candidate approval committee provided Ashton with a five-page letter outlining the concerns that led to the decision to reject his application.

Wab Kinew, left and Steve Ashton at the NDP Leadership 2017 Forum.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Wab Kinew, left and Steve Ashton at the NDP Leadership 2017 Forum.

The concerns included details of a dispute Ashton had with the legislative assembly over office equipment and furniture that apparently was missing when he cleared out his government office in 2016. There were also questions about tens of thousands of dollars in expenses from past leadership campaigns and his 2016 re-election campaign that were paid using personal funds and may have contravened election financing laws.

The committee also referenced the 2015 Tiger Dam scandal, in which Ashton, then in cabinet, allegedly attempted to obtain an untendered flood-protection contract for a friend. And, it raised concerns about his behaviour in the 2017 leadership race, when anonymous letters were sent to party delegates attacking Kinew.

Hudson said the NDP stood a good chance of regaining the Thompson seat in an election that could be held as early as this year, but the party's decision "really sets us back."

"By preventing Steve from running, it could negatively affect our chances of winning in the general election no matter who the successful (NDP) candidate is now," he told the Free Press.

Kinew refused to comment on the provincial NDP executive's decision to deny Ashton's appeal. Although, as leader, he sits on the party executive, Kinew has recused himself from the process. He said he also plays no role in the candidate vetting process.

Alex Forrest, president of the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg and a longtime Ashton supporter, refused Wednesday to comment on the party's decision.

However, he said Ashton would be a formidable candidate if he decided to run as an independent or under the banner of another political party.

"I've known Steve for a long time. And if he decides to run as an independent or if he decides to run as a Green candidate, he would likely win that riding," Forrest said.

Forrest added he has not heard Ashton is about to join the Greens. "It's just that when one party spurns you, there's other parties that will look at you."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature reporter

Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.