Manitoba

Premier says longtime New Democrat MLA Steve Ashton shouldn't be barred from party candidacy

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has come to the defence of longtime NDP MLA Steve Ashton in the politician's bid to run for the party once again.

Ashton doesn't deserve exclusion for bringing to light 'accurate information': Brian Pallister

Wab Kinew, left, and Steve Ashton square off in a leadership forum at the University of Winnipeg in 2017. Ashton's supporters say the NDP's candidate selection committee is using petty reasons to bar the former leadership hopeful from running for election. (Steve Lambert/The Canadian Press)

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister has come to the defence of longtime NDP MLA Steve Ashton, who is appealing the Opposition party's decision to prevent him from running in the next election

Ashton, who held the Thompson legislature seat for 35 years and ran unsuccessfully for leader three times, has been rejected as a candidate for the party's nomination, a supporter said on Monday.

Blair Hudson, one of the Thompson representatives on the NDP's provincial council, told The Canadian Press he suspected that was partly due to the fact Ashton was the lone challenger to NDP Leader Wab Kinew during the party's last leadership race in 2017.

During the race, details of Kinew's past brushes with the law were leaked to the media — a leak some Kinew supporters said Ashton was responsible for.

"I'm not suggesting that Mr. Ashton is as pure as the driven snow, but he's applied to the NDP to be a candidate for their party and it seems from reports in the local media that he is being excluded because he disclosed accurate information," Pallister told reporters Tuesday.

The premier wouldn't mention Kinew by name and didn't state the type of information, but said the party shouldn't punish a candidate for revealing information that should otherwise have been disclosed while a candidate was being vetted. 

The NDP would not tell The Canadian Press why the party's candidate selection committee rejected Ashton's candidacy.

Ashton's appeal of the decision was heard by the party executive on Tuesday. A decision on his appeal is expected on Wednesday, Hudson told CBC News. 

'Petty' excuses

In a news release Tuesday, Hudson said a support group for Ashton is forming as a direct response to the party's "betrayal of Steve's democratic rights."

"While there are two 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," said the news release.

"A committee of the NDP, which has no understanding of the north, has used ridiculous petty rationalizations to deny the people of Thompson the right to choose their candidate."

Kinew insisted he has no say in what the party executive decides about Ashton's appeal.

"It's not my decision and I've recused myself from any sort of appeal process, and that's across the board for any sort of candidate vetting or appeal process," Kinew said.

The party says candidate selection is not conducted by party staff, caucus or the leader.

Ashton, the father of Churchill MP Niki Ashton, was first elected as an MLA in 1981 and served in a variety of provincial cabinet portfolios over his career, including transportation and emergency measures. He ran for leadership in 2009, 2015 and 2017.

His leadership bids did not attract much support from fellow cabinet ministers and he inevitably found himself up against a candidate backed by more members of the party establishment.

He lost his bid for re-election in 2016, as Thompson was one of several NDP strongholds picked up by the Progressive Conservative party, which formed the biggest majority government in Manitoba in a century.

About the Author

Ian Froese

Reporter

Ian Froese is a reporter with CBC Manitoba. He has previously worked for newspapers in Brandon and Steinbach. Story idea? Email: ian.froese@cbc.ca.

With files from The Canadian Press