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Manitoba's NDP to choose Gary Doer's successor Satuday

WINNIPEG -- Manitoba's new premier will be either a centrist determined to keep the government on a course popular with voters or a left-leaning candidate who has promised help for unions, students and public transit.

WINNIPEG -- Manitoba's new premier will be either a centrist determined to keep the government on a course popular with voters or a left-leaning candidate who has promised help for unions, students and public transit.

Greg Selinger and Steve Ashton are squaring off before about 2,000 delegates at the NDP's leadership convention Saturday.

Both are middle-aged, experienced cabinet ministers. Selinger was the province's finance minister for 10 years before stepping down to run for the province's top job. Ashton served in a variety of cabinet posts over the same period, including transportation, emergency measures and conservation.

Where they differ is on the issue of how closely the party should cling to the policies of Gary Doer, the popular premier who is stepping down Saturday to become Canada's ambassador to the United States.

"We've had 10 years of caring, competent government, but we can't be the status quo party," Ashton said in a recent interview.


"There are new challenges out there, new opportunities and ... we've got to have a very different vision on some issues."

Ashton is promising to bring back a freeze on university tuition that the NDP instituted in 1999 but lifted earlier this year. He plans to pass a law to ban companies from using replacement workers during strikes or lockouts, similar to laws in Quebec and British Columbia. He is also promising new spending on student housing, rapid transit in Winnipeg and has voiced a commitment to what he calls "trickle-up" economics.

It's a marked departure from the middle-of-the-road approach that Doer used to score three successive majorities. Doer passed some union-friendly laws, but consistently rejected calls for legislation against replacement workers. He cut business taxes, but also boosted spending on child care and other social programs.

Ashton, 53, grew up in the northern mining town of Thompson, Man., and has spent the last 28 years in the legislature.

He has been the underdog throughout the campaign. None of his fellow cabinet ministers supported his leadership bid, while Selinger has most ministers, high-profile party members and union leaders behind him.

But Ashton has surprised many by making the race closer than expected. He secured many delegates at NDP constituency meetings by reaching out to the labour movement, the party's youth wing and immigrants.

Selinger, 58, is a former social activist in Winnipeg's inner city. He earned a PhD at the London School of Economics and was elected to Winnipeg city council in 1989. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 1992.

He is seen as the architect of the government's economic policies and touts himself as a steady hand to guide the province through the recession. He says people will not see any radical policy shifts under his watch.


"No, I don't think so. I think what people should expect is continuous progress on priorities they've told us are important to them," Selinger said in an interview.

He has promised new spending in health care, job training and the recruitment of skilled immigrants. The promises amount to incremental expansions of existing programs rather than a change in direction.

Selinger's high-profile backing left Ashton little choice but to veer to the left, one analyst says.

"I think that's where he had to position himself in order to make his candidacy credible and send a message that he represents a fresh start for the party," said Paul Thomas, a political science professor at the University of Manitoba.

The leadership race was originally a three-way affair. But Andrew Swan, a younger cabinet minister, dropped out after securing only a small number of delegates. He threw his support behind Selinger.

Whoever is elected Saturday will have up to two years in the premier's chair before facing voters. The next general election is set for the fall of 2011 under Manitoba's fixed election-date law.

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