Former MLA Steve Ashton says he will support the NDP as he has in every election since joining party

Former Thompson NDP MLA Steve Ashton, who represented the area in the Manitoba legislature for 35 years until being beaten by Progressive Conservative candidate Kelly Bindle in the 2016 election, made a public statement this week about his support for the NDP and for its Thompson candidate Danielle Adams.

“I have been a New Democrat since I joined the NDP at the age of 17,” Ashton said on Facebook and Twitter. I was proud to be a candidate for the party 10 times and to run for leader three times. I have supported the party in every election since I joined the party. I am a democratic socialist and I believe in the principles of the NDP. In the upcoming election I will be supporting the NDP candidate in my constituency, Thompson NDP candidate Danielle Adams.”

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Ashton said that he had been encouraged to run as an independent or for another party after being denied the opportunity to run for the NDP again earlier this year, or to publicly state his support for other parties.

In May, the party denied him the chance to seek the candidacy for this year’s provincial election. 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.

Adams, who has served as the constituency assistant to Ashton’s daughter – Churchill-Keewatinook Aski NDP MP Niki Ashton – for the past 10 years, beat Thompson Teacher’s Association president Cathy Pellizzaro for the Thompson NDP nomination May 25 and said that she supported Steve Ashton and believed that he should have been allowed to seek the candidacy again, prompting the Progressive Conservatives to suggest, once the election campaign was underway, that Adams was a long-time Steve Ashton loyalist whose selection as a candidate disrupted Kinew’s plan to have “his hand-picked candidate” Cathy Pellizzaro carry the NDP banner. The PCs said Ashton was denied the chance to run as punishment for releasing information about NDP leader Wab Kinew’s past during the 2017 NDP leadership campaign, in which Kinew beat Ashton by 728 votes to 253 for Ashton.

PC leader Brian Pallister told an audience in Thompson Aug. 22, “You have a candidate in the area for the NDP who doesn’t support the leader of the NDP.”

Adams denied PC claims of a rift with Kinew, saying that the PC allegation was a “cheap distraction.”

Pellizzaro told the Thompson Citizen that she was not asked by Kinew to run.

“I held an NDP membership for many years, held various positions on the Thompson constituency executive and decided to run for the nomination,” Pellizzaro said.

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.

Ashton was minister of infrastructure and transportation from 2009 to 2014, intergovernmental affairs minister from 2006 to 2009, water stewardship minister from 2003 to 2006, minister of labour and immigration in 2003, conservation minister from 2002 to 2003, minister of transportation and government services from 2001 to 2002 and highways and government services minister from 1999 to 2001. Prior to the NDP ascending to power in 1999 – and forming the province’s government for most of the next 17 year – he was in opposition for 11 years. He was a backbencher in Premier Howard Pawley's government for the first seven years of his career as an MLA.

Ashton’s statement said he would have more to say about what happened to him and what is happening to the party “in due course.”

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