02/04/2015 11:51 EST | Updated 04/06/2015 05:59 EDT

Politician calls for joint plan to block rebel candidate in NDP race

WINNIPEG - A Manitoba New Democrat is calling for two leadership candidates to co-operate in an effort to block Theresa Oswald from winning the party helm and the premier's chair.

Rob Altemeyer, a longtime backbencher who represents the Wolseley constituency in Winnipeg, wants the campaign teams of Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger and former cabinet minister Steve Ashton to agree on joint slates of delegates at selection meetings that are to occur over the next three weeks.

Each of the 57 constituency associations is electing delegates who will then vote for the party leader March 8. Ashton and Selinger's teams should work together, at least in those constituencies where Oswald might otherwise win, Altemeyer said Wednesday.

"Given the enormous damage that the five former ministers (who challenged Selinger's leadership last fall) and the Oswald campaign have done to the party ... a little bit of co-operation at the constituency level between local Selinger and Ashton supporters is entirely fair game."

Altemeyer has already criticized Oswald, who was one of the ministers who resigned from the front bench in November after suggesting Selinger retire in order to help the NDP rebound from plummeting poll numbers. Selinger rejected the idea and called for a leadership contest at the NDP's annual convention in March.

Altemeyer urged Wolseley NDP members in a constituency letter last month to vote for either Ashton or Selinger. In a new letter Wednesday, Altemeyer accused Oswald and her supporters of attempting a leadership coup at the party's expense.

"I think the inner circle of the Oswald campaign has been planning this for months — if not years in advance — and have a complete disregard for the negative impacts of their actions on others or the party as a whole, so long as they come out on top," the letter says.

Oswald, who had served as jobs and the economy minister, has repeatedly said she and other senior cabinet ministers tried privately to convince Selinger to resign but he wouldn't listen.

With the NDP far behind the Opposition Progressive Conservatives in opinion polls — due largely to a sales tax increase in 2013 — the rebel ministers felt they had to take drastic action to help the NDP's fight for re-election in 2016, she said.

Oswald was not available for an interview Wednesday on Altemeyer's plan. Her campaign spokesperson issued a written statement which hinted Oswald was staying out of the fray.

"From the outset, Theresa has pledged to run a respectful campaign true to New Democratic values," Jodee Mason wrote.

"Every member will decide who they want to be the next leader, and we will respect all decisions."

An Ashton spokesman did not reject the idea of having joint delegate-slates with Selinger, but said it is too early to discuss the issue.

"It’s premature to talk about our strategy for slates outside the north and MYND (the party's youth wing), as we're currently working through our strategy for them. We have received advice from many quarters on how to formulate slates, as you can imagine," Christopher Sanderson wrote in an email.

Delegates for five northern constituencies, as well as those for the youth wing, are being elected by mail-in ballot. All other constituencies will see delegates elected in-person at meetings that start on Friday.

Selinger's campaign manager said the premier was not part of any deal.

"There is no agreement. We are running an independent campaign. The members will decide," Lynda Geary wrote in an email.