A full two years before Premier Gary Doer announced he would retire from politics to take up residence in the District of Columbia, a key battle was fought in the New Democratic Party that might determine not only who wins, but which constituency within the party will deliver the victory.

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This article was published 11/9/2009 (4464 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Opinion

A full two years before Premier Gary Doer announced he would retire from politics to take up residence in the District of Columbia, a key battle was fought in the New Democratic Party that might determine not only who wins, but which constituency within the party will deliver the victory.

At the NDP's 2007 annual general meeting, party members, led by the Manitoba Federation of Labour, demanded the party return to a delegate-selection process to elect its leaders, instead of the one-member, one-vote (OMOV) system embraced following Doer's election as leader in 1988.

The MFL argued that long-time, committed activists should be the ones to select leaders, not political "tourists" who are signed up for a single purpose.

At the urging of the MFL, the party turned to an enormously complex system where one delegate is awarded to a riding association for every 10 members in good standing. A meeting is then held to determine who will fill those delegate spots. This is where it gets complicated. If a riding has 50 delegate spots and 100 people vying to fill them, there is a vote. The top 50 vote-getters get to go to the convention.

The peculiarity of this system is that if one candidate sells a lot of memberships, but can't get those members out to vote, all those delegates could end up in someone else's camp.

Why would the MFL push this particular system? As an added feature, labour automatically gets 20 per cent of the delegates at the leadership convention without having to sell a single membership. And, not surprisingly, it is the MFL that gets to decide how those delegates are distributed among the province's unions and locals.

In the current leadership race, which of the candidates benefits the most from the return to this convoluted delegate-selection process?

Steve Ashton, the dark horse in this race, can generate large numbers of delegates from a handful of ridings. This means Ashton can focus on key northern ridings, where he has relentlessly sold memberships, and in the north of Winnipeg and the core-area ridings where he has extensive contacts in key ethnic communities.

As for Swan and Selinger, both campaigns are, according to insiders, covering all 57 riding associations to sell new memberships and renew lapsed ones. They will generate a lot of additional delegates that could, if the vote at the selection meetings does not go their way, end up in their opponent's pocket.

That is, unless you are the overwhelming choice of labour. And to date it's not clear that "labour" can deliver all its votes to a single candidate.

In the current leadership race, Ashton has snagged the support of some unions ---- including northern locals of the United Steelworkers and the United Fire Fighters of Winnipeg -- but it appears Swan has taken an early lead in landing key labour leaders including MFL president Darlene Dziewit and senior Manitoba Government Employees Union official Bob Dewar. Very few formal endorsements have been confirmed, but Swan is widely expected to get the support of leaders from mammoth unions such the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

The Dziewit endorsement is perhaps the most intriguing. The MFL does not, as a rule, endorse a leadership candidate. Nonetheless, Dziewit took the unusual step of declaring her "personal" support for Swan.

It's hard to understand how the president of an organization that cannot endorse leadership candidates was able to pledge her support to Swan. It is, however, the most telling sign of the candidate that labour leaders would like to see sitting in the premier's chair on Oct. 18.

If Swan is quietly becoming the chosen one for labour groups, it would upset much of the conventional wisdom about how this race is shaping up. Swan has been positioned by many in the media and pundits as the heir apparent, and the candidate who Doer most likely supports. There have been few to date who have seen him as a Trojan Horse for Manitoba's labour movement.

And yet, it certainly appears that the organizations who were the most desperate to get rid of the OMOV leadership process are slowly but surely making their way into Swan's camp.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.