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Outgoing Manitoba Liberal leader contributed to potential replacement's campaign

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Rana Bokhari

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Rana Bokhari

WINNIPEG - Rana Bokhari won the leadership of the Manitoba Liberal Party despite raising less money than her two competitors and topped a rival who had financial help from the previous leader, financial statements filed with Elections Manitoba indicate.

The documents say Bokhari raised $9,270.49 in contributions and from fundraising activities en route to a first-ballot victory last October.

Runner-up Dougald Lamont raised the most — $18,748 — while third-place finisher Bob Axworthy collected $14,684.

Axworthy was helped with $500 from previous leader Jon Gerrard, who announced his resignation following a 2011 election campaign that saw the party reduced to one legislature seat.

Gerrard, who had said he was remaining neutral in the race, said Tuesday he only gave Axworthy the money after the race was over.

"Bob had a double problem. He had lost and he had a debt, so I helped him out as a friend. Period," Gerrard said.

The documents show Bokhari finished with a small surplus of $38.45, largely because she claimed no salary for herself or her helpers.

Lamont claimed salaries totalling $4,331 — not for himself, but for a technical assistant and administrator, his campaign manager Jim Kane said. Axworthy claimed $7,545 in salaries. He said Tuesday the money went to his campaign manager and one assistant.

The Liberals have been trying to emerge from two decades in the political wilderness. They captured 7.5 per cent of the vote in 2011, but recent polls suggest their support has shot up to near 20 per cent as the NDP government's popularity has slumped.

With the next election expected in 2016, the party is trying to rebuild its coffers and membership base. Having spent money on two recent byelections, and having raised less money than expected at a recent fundraising dinner, the Liberals recently got approval for a $70,000 overdraft to cover expenses in the short term.

Bokhari has faced internal criticism since taking over. Axworthy announced in the winter that he was quitting the party and accused Bokhari's inner circle of purging some longtime members — an assertion the party denied.

More recently, a letter was shared among some party members accusing the Liberal executive of ignoring the grassroots and violating the constitution.

The dissent was largely quelled at the party's annual general meeting this month with the election of several strong Bokhari supporters to the 25-member board of directors. As well, Bokhari's senior adviser, Corey Shefman, withdrew some proposed constitutional amendments that critics said concentrated too much power in the party executive.

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