By Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — A longtime former Manitoba NDP cabinet minister and leadership contender is being barred from running for the party again in the next election, a supporter says.
Steve 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 this time around, said Blair Hudson, one of the Thompson representatives on the NDP’s provincial council. The council is the party’s governing body.
“I can tell you that I’m very frustrated that the party out of Winnipeg is dictating how we in Thompson are going to select our candidate,” Hudson said Monday.
“For the party to bar our (legislative member) of 35 years from running, there’s something amiss here.”
Hudson said he believes Ashton is being barred partly because he was the lone challenger to Wab Kinew in the 2017 leadership race, which Kinew won by nearly a 3-1 ratio. The race became bitter at one point as details of Kinew’s brushes with the law were leaked to the media, and some Kinew supporters accused Ashton of being behind the leaks.
Ashton has been rejected by the party’s candidate selection committee, Hudson said, but has an appeal before the party executive Tuesday.
Ashton has not returned repeated requests for comment in recent days via phone, text and social media messages. Officials at party headquarters refused to comment in detail, and would only say candidate selection is not done by party staff, caucus or the leader.
“Prospective candidates applying for the Manitoba NDP must undergo an arm’s-length, candidate-approval process that includes vetting and a candidate interview,” Tim Johnson, the NDP’s provincial secretary, wrote in an email.
“To ensure the integrity of this process and to respect the privacy of prospective candidates, the Manitoba NDP will not provide comment on any application it receives.”
Ashton, the father of Churchill MP Niki Ashton, was first elected in 1981 and served in a variety of 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 Conservatives that formed the biggest majority government in Manitoba in a century.