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Liberal leadership candidates discuss top policy dilemmas

Posted: 09/16/2013 2:02 PM | Comments: 0

Last Modified: 09/19/2013 11:02 AM | Updates

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Dougald Lamont (left) and Rana Bokhari (centre) are both running for the Manitoba provincial Liberal Party leadership. Reporter Mary Agnes Welch (right) hosted the debate at the Winnipeg Free Press News Café Thursday morning.

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Dougald Lamont (left) and Rana Bokhari (centre) are both running for the Manitoba provincial Liberal Party leadership. Reporter Mary Agnes Welch (right) hosted the debate at the Winnipeg Free Press News Café Thursday morning. Photo Store

Manitoba’s would-be Liberal leaders agree the PST hike ought to be repealed, more must be spent on infrastructure, and job creation is key to combating poverty and retaining young people.

In a collegial and wide-ranging discussion this morning at the Winnipeg Free Press News Café, Winnipeg lawyer Rana Bokhari and communications consultant Dougald Lamont squared off on the future of their third-place party and some of Manitoba’s top policy dilemmas.

Among them was poverty, and one voter in the crowd asked the candidates for a plan of action on three key issues – child poverty, youth suicide and sexual exploitation.

Bokhari was short on specifics, but said suicide can best be addressed by restoring hope to youth that may be lost through limited job opportunities, addictions or mental illness. And she said the province must crack down hard on those who exploit young people.

Lamont said ensuring a pool of decent, well-paying jobs is key to lifting people out of poverty, reducing the desperation that drives some to suicide or the sex trade. He also called for more affordable housing, arguing that Manitoba Housing is among the worst landlords in the province.

Asked about the future of Manitoba Hydro, Bokhari called for more consultation on a multi-billion-dollar dam expansion plan, especially to determine whether there is a guaranteed market for Manitoba’s power.

Lamont said Hydro is one of the province’s best resources, but that the company must be allowed to operate independently in the best interests of Manitobans. That means a truly independent regulator, unlike the Public Utilities Board, whose members are appointed by the NDP with no input from the other parties.

"Manitoba Hydro and other industries are being allowed to mark their own homework when it comes to regulation," he said.

Lamont also disputed the notion that leading the Liberals may be the toughest gig in Manitoba politics, since the party was reduced to one seat last election and struggles for traction as all parties hedge toward the centre.

He said the Tories, who have enjoyed a renaissance over the last year, are far from moderate or centrist. And he said it speaks well of the grassroots health of the Liberals that there’s a genuine contest for leader, unlike the acclimation that brought Brian Pallister to the Tory helm.

Asked what she would do the ensure the Liberal Party is open to those normally left out of politics, Bokhari said she hoped to lead by example.

"I’m not a seasoned politician by any stretch of the word. What I really want to be is someone who has lived a life of ups and downs and challenges," she said. "Stand up. We have a voice."

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Updated on Thursday, September 19, 2013 at 7:45 AM CDT: Removes live video

8:43 AM: adds photo

11:02 AM: Writethru.

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