The president of Manitoba's New Democrats says the party is not ignoring northern members, some of whom have filed a complaint over an executive decision not to have satellite voting in the upcoming leadership contest.
The northern members are disputing a ruling from the party's executive that delegates to the NDP's annual convention in March won't be able to cast a leadership ballot unless they are in Winnipeg.
"I can't stress enough that we are not trying to disenfranchise people from the north," party president Ellen Olfert told CBC News on Monday.
Over the weekend, the executive decided not to accommodate northern voters with a mail-in ballot or satellite voting station.
"What's this executive doing? Why do they want to exclude us all of a sudden? Are we second-class citizens or what?" said Gord Landriault, the NDP’s regional vice-president for the north.
A satellite vote was held in northern Manitoba for the 2009 leadership election, Landriault and others have argued.
Olfert explained that this year's leadership contest is taking place as part of the NDP's annual convention, not as a separate convention.
The party's constitution, she said, is not set up to allow for special voting at the annual convention.
"There is nothing in the constitution that afforded us the opportunity to be able to do that," she said, referring to satellite and mail-in voting.
But Landriault disagrees, arguing that the vote has "all the earmarks of a leadership convention."
The northern party members filed an appeal calling for an emergency provincial council meeting, the outcome of which could trump the executive's decision.
And on Tuesday, after the northern delegates amassed enough signatures, Olfert announced a teleconference meeting had been scheduled to take place Jan. 25 at 10 a.m. to address northern voting concerns.
'Moral principle' at issue
"To ask the poorest demographic of people in this province to pay the most to exercise their rights that people in Winnipeg, Brandon, Selkirk can easily do for minimum cost is not fair, it's not just," said Tyler Duncan, a New Democrat from Norway House.
Duncan said voting in Winnipeg won't be a problem for him personally because he's going to university in the city this year, but he argued that all northern party members are being ignored.
Like many northern New Democrats, Duncan said he is supporting Thompson MLA Steve Ashton for the top job. However, he said his anger has nothing to do with his choice of candidate.
"My issue is morals, the moral principle of it. It doesn't matter who I'm supporting for premier, who I'm supporting for party leadership, it's the moral principle of the issue at hand," Duncan said.
"The fact that they are ignoring such a massive demographic of people — my people, aboriginal people, the northern people of this province — it's not fair, it's not right."
Olfert said the idea behind the executive's decision is to have delegates come to Winnipeg and take part in the full convention, not just the leadership vote.
As well, she said it would be too expensive to have remote voting.
"The party has just got so many resources in terms of staff and in terms of finances, and particularly in terms of satellite [voting], it would become extremely costly," she said.
Olfert said the party's travel fund has tripled recently and is there to help some delegates get to Winnipeg, although she admitted the fund won't cover full travel costs.
Selinger, Oswald weigh in
Meantime, all three leadership candidates say northern voters should be accommodated.
"The Selinger campaign supports an appeal of the executive's decision. Greg Selinger believes that people in northern communities deserve access to the democratic process," said Suzanne Hrynyk, campaign spokesperson for the current party leader and Manitoba premier.
Ashton and Theresa Oswald are hoping to unseat Selinger, who is defending his leadership.
When asked about the issue on Sunday, Oswald said, "We should endeavour to use the technology that's available to us — livestreaming, what have you — not only in the north, but in all corners of the province."