01/30/2015 01:08 EST | Updated 04/01/2015 05:59 EDT

Women, immigrants become part of Manitoba NDP leadership campaign

WINNIPEG - Women and immigrants are the focus of new spending promises by contenders for the leadership of Manitoba's governing New Democrats.

Theresa Oswald, who was part of a caucus coup against Premier Greg Selinger last fall, said Friday she would offer several new programs for immigrants that would cost about $950,000 a year.

Oswald said she would set up a transitional school project for young refugees who have had to miss school in their home countries.

"As a former teacher and vice-principal, I witnessed first-hand the effects we can have ... when we put the right supports in place for immigrant families." she said.

Oswald said she would also:

— Make permanent a pilot project that offers small loans to newcomers who are trying to get their job credentials recognized in Canada.

— Hire four more immigration officers to speed up applications under the provincial nominee program.

— Restore English language training programs that have been scaled back under federal changes.

Another candidate, Steve Ashton, promised to address key women's issues and work to reduce sexual violence.

Ashton said he would make education on sexual consent part of the school curriculum from early grades, similar to what has been done in Ontario.

He also promised to boost annual funding for women's research and advocacy groups by $1 million and to launch a public awareness campaign to combat sexual violence.

Ashton and Oswald are vying to unseat Selinger in a March 8 leadership vote. He has faced internal turmoil since the NDP plummeted in opinion polls in 2013. Recent polls suggest the New Democrats are well back of the Opposition Progressive Conservatives and near record-low levels of public support.

Selinger has been keeping a low-profile in the leadership race and has said he is focused on continuing to govern. He was in Ottawa on Friday meeting with other premiers to discuss the economy, health care and other issues.