Steve Ashton makes his election pitch to Thompson Chamber of Commerce

Photo Caption: Thompson NDP MLA Steve Ashton speaking to an enthusiastic crowd of supporters at the USW Local 6166 annual Labour Day Picnic Sept. 5 – the day before the writ was dropped for the fixed-date Oct. 4 provincial election. Ashton is in his ninth contest to be Thompson’s MLA and is the longest-serving member of the Manitoba legislature, first elected in November 1981. Photo by John Barker Thompson NDP MLA Steve Ashton speaking to an enthusiastic crowd of supporters at the USW Local 6166 annual Labour Day Picnic Sept. 5 – the day before the writ was dropped for the fixed-date Oct. 4 provincial election. Ashton is in his ninth contest to be Thompson’s MLA and is the longest-serving member of the Manitoba legislature, first elected in November 1981.
September 21, 2011

Thompson NDP MLA and minister of infrastructure and transportation Steve Ashton, who is seeking re-election in his ninth campaign in the Oct. 4 provincial election, made his pitch to the Thompson Chamber of Commerce Sept. 14 as to why voters should send him back to Winnipeg again.

First elected Nov. 17, 1981, Ashton is the longest-serving MLA in the Manitoba legislature.

Thompson riding Liberal candidate Ken Dillen, who before switching parties was the NDP MLA for Thompson from 1973 to 1977, and Progressive Conservative candidate Anita Campbell, will both get their turns to address Thompson Chamber of Commerce members at pre-election luncheons as well. Dillen lost to Progressive Conservative candidate Ken McMaster in the 1977 election, who in turn was defeated by Ashton. Dillen had also been president of USW Local 6166 before entering provincial politics.

Campbell is has been executive director of Thompson's Ma-Mow-We-Tak Friendship Centre since 1993. She won the PC nomination at an Aug. 29 meeting in Thompson. In addition to her position at the friendship centre, Campbell is a four-term member of the board of directors for the Manitoba Métis Federation, which she currently serves as the elected spokesperson of the Métis Women of Manitoba. She is also a member of the Premier's Economic Advisory Committee and has served on the board of the province's Apprenticeship and Certification Board since 2010. Previously, she served as a board member with Manitoba Status of Women.

Ashton covered familiar ground during his election pitch to the chamber members, offering no real surprises, changes, additions or departures from previous positions.

He said he agrees with Mayor Tim Johnston that special constables on foot patrol are needed to address downtown problems and that Thompson needs a detox – positions long advocated by the mayor – but which have yet to bear fruit with Ashton’s provincial cabinet colleagues and have been an ongoing source of irritation between the City of Thompson and Manitoba Justice and Attorney General Andrew Swan in particular, although Johnston has said an Aug. 16 meeting he had with Swan in Winnipeg was one of the most productive sessions with the Department of Justice that he's been involved in as either a councillor or mayor.

"I really felt very energized and positive coming out of that meeting," said Johnston.

Ashton reiterated some other familiar themes, suggesting a Progressive Conservative government would spend less on Northern Manitoba highways, something he said Tory Leader Hugh McFadyen won’t say in the North but was reported to have said in southern Manitoba by the Carman Valley Leader 18 months ago.

He also said based on what they said about making cuts in the 2003 campaign, he worries about the future of the University of the College North’s new Thompson campus if the Tories come to power.

“It is a critical election,” Ashton said.

Asked by chamber president Linda Markus to explain the decision to have Manitoba Hydro build the new BiPole III high voltage direct current (HVDC) transmission line in western Manitoba instead of on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, a more costly route, as the west side route for will have some $400 million of additional upfront costs plus another $240 million for line loss, Ashton said “green power” legislative requirements from the province’s power export customers, in places like Wisconsin, preclude the shorter and cheaper eastern route through boreal forest, which is a possible future UNESCO World Heritage site on the east side of Lake Winnipeg, as qualifying as green energy.

BiPole III has a projected in-service date of 2017-18 and the estimated cost is $3.280 billion.

On June 8, the Wisconsin legislature passed Assembly Bill 146 recognizing new Manitoba Hydro power as a renewable source. The bill requires Manitoba Hydro to follow strict environmental conditions to both maintain the designation and export power to Wisconsin.

Under Assembly Bill 146 and Wisconsin's renewable portfolio standard, 10 per cent of electricity must come from renewable sources by 2015.

The only Manitoba Hydro dam that currently would qualify for the designation is the soon-to-be-completed $1.3 billion 200-MW Wuskwatim Generating Station on the Burntwood River about 45 kilometres southwest of Thompson. It’s scheduled to go into operation early next year.

Ashton said the planned $5.6 billion 695-MW Keeyask Generating Station on the Nelson River, downstream from Split Lake and 175 kilometres northeast of Thompson in the Split Lake Resource Management Area, will also qualify for Wisconsin green power designation. Keeyask is estimated to be about 4.3 times as expensive to build as Wuskwatim and projected to generate almost 3.5 times as much power as the Nelson House area dam.

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