Supporters of former Thompson NDP MLA Steve Ashton say the provincial party denied him the chance to seek the candidacy once again to try to win back the seat he lost to Progressive Conservative Kelly Bindle in the 2016 election that swept the NDP out of power after 17 years.
A May 6 news release from the Steve Ashton Support Group, emailed by Thompson NDP executive member Blair Hudson, said that the NDP’s candidate selection committee “which has no understanding of the north, has used petty rationalizations to deny the people of Thompson the right to choose their candidate.”
“While there are other fine New Democrats running for the NDP nomination it seems clear that Steve has the support of the Thompson constituency, having the support of existing members and over 200 new members from across the constituency who would be eligible to vote at a nominating convention.”
NDP provincial secretary Tim Johnson told the Canadian Press that prospective candidates have to go through an “arm’s-length, candidate-approval process that includes vetting and a candidate interview.”
Ashton challenged the candidate selection committee’s decision but his appeal was dismissed May 8 and that decision is final.
Thompson Teachers’ Association president Cathy Pellizzaro is the only other prospective candidate who has publicly declared her intent to seek the nomination.
Ashton, whose daughter Niki Ashton has represented the federal Churchill and Churchill-Keewatinook Aski ridings for the federal NDP since 2008, was first elected as MLA in 1981 and represented Thompson in the legislature for 35 years before finally being defeated. He served as a cabinet minister under premiers Gary Doer and Greg Selinger and lost the 2017 leadership race to current NDP leader Wab Kinew by nearly a three-to-one margin.
Ashton ran for the leadership twice before, losing to Selinger both times, first in 2009 when Gary Doer resigned and again in 2015 when a cabinet revolt saw several high-profile NDP MLAs, not including Ashton, question Selinger’s leadership.
Selinger took about two-thirds of the delegates to beat Ashton in 2009. Six years later, Ashton finished third on the first ballot behind Selinger and Theresa Oswald and didn’t throw his support behind either of the two remaining candidates.
“The NDP must remember that if it betrays the word Democratic in its name that the people of Manitoba will lose trust in the party that is best able to represent the aspirations of all Manitoba,” said the news release sent out by Hudson. “Many of us have been NDP members for decades. We believe Steve should be allowed to contest the NDP nomination. Let the people of the north decide!”
Bindle rode to victory in 2016 by winning all but nine polls in the Thompson area while Ashton won practically every poll in the outlying areas of the district.
Almost 85 per cent of Bindle’s 1,712 votes overall were cast in Thompson polling stations, where he received a total of 1,447. Ashton received 1,047 votes in Thompson, about 70 per cent of his overall total of 1,527.
Turnout in the Thompson electoral district was 37.36 per cent.
Churchill, Gillam, Nelson House and communities along the Hudson Bay Railway in the province’s northeast were taken away from the provincial Keewatinook riding and added to the Thompson electoral division for the 2020 election by the Electoral Division Boundaries Commission in 2018.Churchill, Gillam, Nelson House and communities along the Hudson Bay Railway in the province’s northeast were taken away from the provincial Keewatinook riding and added to the Thompson electoral division for the 2020 election by the Electoral Division Boundaries Commissionin 2018.