Monday, March 9, 2015

Re-cap of the Manitoba NDP leadership election: An excercise in futility?

Yesterday, the governing New Democratic Party of Manitoba held a leadership convention and re-elected their leader, Premier Greg Selinger. Back in the Fall, there was a caucus revolt in the party, following two years of trailing the opposition Progressive Conservative Party in the polls, due in part to recent unpopular policies, such as raising the Provincial Sales Tax. The NDP has been in power since 1999, and Selinger has been Premier since the last leadership vote in 2009. Following the revolt, which involved the resignation of five cabinet ministers, Selinger refused to step down as Premier, and called a leadership election.

Polls in Manitoba now show the NDP trailing the Tories by at least 20 points, and are now in threat of being surpassed by the Liberals, who hold just one seat in the legislature. This was no matter for a majority delegates at the convention this weekend, as they narrowly chose to keep Selinger as Premier. 50.9% of delegates voted for Selinger on the second ballot yesterday, defeating MLA Theresa Oswald. Another MLA, Steve Ashton (father of MP Nikki Ashton) also ran for leader, but was eliminated on the first ballot, in a close three way race. After the first ballot, Selinger had the support of 36% of delegates, Oswald had 34% and Ashton had 30%. Normally when party's have their annual or biennial leadership reviews, leaders need at least 70% support to feel comfortable enough to stay on as leader. This wasn't a leadership review, but it's clear Selinger barely even has majority support in his party, which means he will be in tough to lead the party into the next election, scheduled for the Spring of 2016.

The leadership candidates

The Manitoba NDP uses a traditional delegated leadership convention, which is relatively unheard for other provincial New Democratic Parties. Delegates are selected in a number of different fashions. More than half of the delegates were chosen at delegate meetings held across the province in February. Local members of the NDP in each riding elected slates of delegates representing the candidates. Slates were elected using plurality-at-large voting, meaning that in most cases one candidate would win all or almost all of the delegates in a riding. The number of delegates a riding has was determined based on the party's membership in that riding. Of all the ridings, The Pas, in Northern Manitoba had the most delegates with 145, owing in part to an expected by-election there, which has increased party memberships. Members in The Pas, and in four other ridings in Northern Manitoba had to mail in their ballots, as delegates meetings would have been impossible to hold in such geographically large ridings. The minimum amount of delegates a riding could have was five, which 10 ridings had. All but nine of those ridings are held by the Tories.

After all the delegate meetings were held across the province, it was clear that a close three-way race was emerging. Steve Ashton won the most constituency delegates with 482. Selinger was next with 415, and Theresa Oswald was close behind with 336. Another 7 delegates were unpledged. Oswald won an additional 91 delegates from the Manitoba NDP youth, while Ashton won one. Only 77 youth delegates showed up to the actual leadership convention, however. 1,212 of the 1,240 elected constituency delegates showed up to the convention. In order to vote, delegates had to attend the convention held at the Canad Inns Polo Park in Winnipeg.

Candidate delegate geography 

Delegate winners by riding

Selinger saw his best delegate meeting results in Winnipeg's working class north end, an area that is home to the NDP's base in the province. Outside of this area, Selinger won a splattering of ridings across the province, including both Brandon seats. His big delegate-haul was The Maples, in the northwest corner of Winnipeg, where he won all 117 delegates. His next best delegate win was Point Douglas in the north end of the city, where he won 34 delegates. Ashton won the most amount of constituency delegates, thanks in part to his big win in The Pas (126 of 145 delegates), which is right next door to his home riding of Thompson. Ashton did not sweep the north however (another strong NDP region of the province), as The Pas and Thompson were the only seats he won. He won most of his seats in suburban Winnipeg, and won a few rural seats as well. Ashton's other big wins were Thompson (61 delegates), Elmwood (59 of 61), Concordia (46) and St. Norbert (44). Despite winning the least amount of constituency delegates, Oswald won the most amount of constituencies. She did this by winning ridings with fewer delegates, in areas such as the south end suburbs of Winnipeg and in rural southern Manitoba. Oswald represents Seine River in the legisulatre, a suburban riding in the south end of Winnipeg, which is an important swing area that was key for past NDP election victories. Oswald did well in these swing areas, indicating that she may have been the best candidate for the party to retain these seats. Oswald's only major delegate win came from Wolseley, a seat in central Winnipeg, where she won 45 of a possible 48 delegates. Other than Wolseley, she did not win any seats with fewer than 25 delegates.

Other delegates

Owing in part to the NDP's formation in 1961 as a merger of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation and the Canadian Labour Congress, unions still have a major influence in the NDP and are often still awarded delegates in some provincial leadership races. The Manitoba NDP, which still uses an archaic delegated convention anyways, is no exception in this regard. Selinger received endorsements from the two biggest affiliated unions, CUPE and the UFCW. While not all union delegates are bound to vote for who their union endorsed, these high profile union endorsements were key for Selinger to win the nomination, and to over come his lack of constituency delegates. Unions were initially entitled 691 delegates, but were only able to fill up 296 slots at the convention. Even still, this was enough to held Selinger get elected. Despite winning the endorsement of two unions (United Fire Fighters and the United Steelworkers), it is clear from the results that Ashton did not win very many actual union delegates (no more than 12 by my estimation), despite both unions being worth a combined 86 delegates.

In addition to the constituency, youth a union delegates, 157 ex-officio delegates (of a possible 200) attended the convention, representing the party's riding associations, plus MLAs, Members of Parliament and other officials. While a caucus revolt spurred the leadership election, Selinger still had a lot of support from caucus members. 15 of the 37 members of caucus backed Selinger, compared to eight for Oswald and seven for Ashton (the rest were neutral). Assuming Ashton won a handful of union delegates, he probably won very if ex-officios other than the support of those seven caucus members, and presumably his daughter. Oswald must have won many ex-officios, considering her weak union support.

1,742 delegates (out of a possible 2,217) attended the convention, and thus were able to vote for leader yesterday. 1,699 delegates voted on the first ballot, and just 1,490 on the second. One would think that once Ashton was eliminated after the first ballot, most of his delegates would go to Oswald, to stop Selinger. However, this did not quite happen. It looks like a plurality of his delegates did not even vote on the second ballot. Those who did were evenly split between Oswald and Selinger. Oswald gained 151 votes on the second ballot, while Selinger gained 147 (while 209 fewer delegates voted on the second ballot). All three candidates were seen as polarizing figures, with deep flaws ,preventing much cross-support. It appears there were just as many people who did not want to see Oswald or Ashton win than who did not want to see Selinger win. This polarization was another factor that helped Selinger win, as delegates of his opponents could not unite against him.


In my opinion, the Manitoba NDP's archaic delegated voting system and union delegates helped Selinger win despite his clear lack of popular support. With a more democratic one member, one vote system, Selinger would probably have lost the leadership race, allowing the Manitoba NDP a chance at renewal. While it's likely the NDP was going to lose the next election no matter who they chose as leader, choosing to keep Selinger was probably the worst thing the party could have done. They had a chance to save grace, but instead will likely face a metaphorical blood bath in the next election. And with the Liberal brand on the rise across the country, the next election could be a repeat of the 1988 election (where the Liberals formed the opposition, with the NDP in third), but with a large majority for the Tories. And for now, the Selinger has to lead a beleaguered, divided party for at most, another 13 months.

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