02/26/2015 11:59 EST | Updated 04/28/2015 05:59 EDT

Unions to hold less sway in Manitoba NDP leadership race: sources

WINNIPEG, Canado - Manitoba unions will hold a lot less sway than expected over Premier Greg Selinger's future, after being unable to fill hundreds of delegate slots for the governing NDP's leadership vote next weekend, sources have told The Canadian Press.

Unions were allocated up to 691 of a potential 2,217 delegate positions for the March 8 vote that will determine whether Selinger will be forced out of his job by an internal revolt. But two sources connected to the race said unions were only able to fill 361 of those slots by the deadline Wednesday night, with a handful of potential additions still being tabulated by party headquarters.

Requests for comment from NDP headquarters were not immediately returned late Thursday. Party officials had earlier said they were discussing whether to release union delegate numbers publicly at all before the NDP's annual convention that starts one week from Friday.

Union leaders had already admitted they faced a hurdle in filling their delegate slots under the NDP's complex system of rules for leadership selection. Union locals are awarded one delegate for every 100 members, but each delegate has to be an active NDP member and a member of the local they represent.

The rules were a challenge for the Canadian Union of Public Employees, which has dozens of locals across the province. A health care worker in Winnipeg, for example, could not be assigned a delegate position for a union local in The Pas.

The low union turnout may be a setback for Selinger, who had been endorsed by two of the biggest unions — CUPE and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union. Selinger may need a lot of labour support to hold off his two competitors, former health minister Theresa Oswald and former infrastructure minister Steve Ashton, who have secured more delegates from the province's youth wing and the party's 57 constituency associations.

Selinger was essentially forced into the leadership contest by a caucus revolt last October, when Oswald and four other senior cabinet ministers called on him to resign to help the party rebound in the polls. NDP support plummeted after the government raised the provincial sales tax in 2013.

An election is scheduled for April 2016 and Oswald has said she is the party's best chance to win. Ashton, who did not take part in the revolt, has touted himself as the best person to reunite the divided party.