Free tuition and universal child care now NDP policy

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Free tuition and universal child care now NDP policy

The provincial New Democrats want to make tuition free and reinstate funding at two Winnipeg schools. 

After three days of debating, voting and electing new executives, the NDP wrapped up the first of two conventions for 2017.

The party will reconvene in the fall to elect a new leader.

Sunday morning's gathering saw the party vote to end tuition at post-secondary schools.

Former cabinet minister Steve Ashton was one of the delegates who championed the resolution.

The Progressive Conservative government will introduce new legislation on Monday focused on universities and colleges in the province.

"We can do better, Ashton told the convention, adding, "17 countries have free tuition."

Delegates also passed an emergency resolution urging the Pallister government to restore funding for projects at Dakota Collegiate and Kelvin High School.

Fort Rouge MLA and possible leadership candidate Wab Kinew spoke forcefully about the funding cuts for the two school projects, alluding to the 11 months it took the Tory government to make a decision on not doing the work, despite strong support and fundraising within the communities around the schools.

"If a private corporation had 15 per cent equity in a project, Brian Pallister would never have cancelled it," Kinew says.

The party worked through a list of dozens of resolutions on health, the environment, social issues and the labour.

Delegates passed resolutions calling on the PC government to protect universally funded health care, declare the fentanyl overdose crisis a public health emergency and reopen a Quick Care clinic in St. Boniface.

The party also vowed to support raising the minimum wage in Manitoba to a living wage.

The current government did not raise the minimum wage in its first year in office.

A tongue-in-cheek resolution to call for airlines to create a non-stop flight from Winnipeg to Costa Rica was never debated and joined several initiatives that fell to a lack of time in the three-day convention.

Convention delegates struggled for hours Saturday to change the party's system to vote for a new leader.

A vocal minority attempted to have a one-member, one vote system adopted. A stronger majority had other resolutions calling for a delegated convention that reflected the party's labour roots, but those options didn't get the required two-thirds majority of votes.

Up next: a new leader

The party will now turn its attention to the actual leadership campaign. Only community activist and union organizer Michelle McHale is officially in the race.

McHale says she spent much of the convention listening as opposed to looking for votes.

"I didn't ask anyone for their vote. What I want to do is get to know people. What I want to do is get to know what the issues are, and then find a way to work on those things, because it's not going to be a leader or a person that fixes what we have to mend," McHale says.

Fort Rouge MLA Wab Kinew is regarded by some as front-runner material for the job, but hasn't declared he's officially in the race yet.

"Yeah, I'm interested in it. But I know that it's not what I want — It's about what people in the party want and the people of Manitoba want. So, I am working on putting a team together and talking to people and if the response continues to go well then I'll move forward," Kinew told reporters at the close of the convention.

The former broadcaster and author says his first priority is holding the Pallister government to account and working in his constituency.

Other names being talked about within the party as possible candidates include former cabinet minister Steve Ashton and St. Johns MLA Fontaine Nahanni.

Ashton was coy when asked during the convention if he would run and Fontaine declined to speak with reporters.

A date for the leadership convention hasn't been set but is expected in September.