A motion that would have forbidden Manitoba Liberal party members from doing anything to bring an elected official or nominated candidate "into disrepute" was voted down at the party’s annual meeting on Saturday.
The constitutional amendment, which had the backing of senior party members including leader Rana Bokhari, received more than half the votes but failed to get the necessary two-thirds majority.
Corey Shefman, a Winnipeg lawyer and newly elected party director who moved the amendment, said there were several instances during the 2011 provincial election where party members spoke "very poorly about our candidates and our chances of election."
During that campaign a then-party board member mused that the Liberals could be wiped off the political map and the "writing may be on the wall" for then-leader Jon Gerrard. Two former Liberal MPs also made headlines for publicly supporting NDP incumbents over the party’s own candidates.
However, others at today’s meeting opposed the motion, arguing it was unenforceable and violated free speech.
Charles Huband, a former Manitoba Liberal party leader and former Manitoba Court of Appeal judge, told a packed meeting room that criticism can be healthy, and whether it puts the object of that criticism ‘into disrepute’ is a "judgment call."
He worried that such a motion may act as "a chill on free speech."
While Shefman said events in the 2011 election were the motivation behind the amendment, it was also evident that some party members had been stung by the public airing of recent internal criticisms of new party leader Rana Bokhari.
"I just cannot understand all of this hullabaloo about criticizing her (Bokhari) now that she’s been appointed," one delegate said during the debate.
The defeated amendment was one of 20 proposed constitutional changes at the AGM. Several were tabled or "suspended" without being deliberated. Proposals from members of the party’s inner circle to reduce the size of the board of directors and to lessen the minimum number of director meetings annually to six from eight were among them. It appeared that neither motion would have received the necessary two-thirds support.
Many of the amendments that did pass were of a housekeeping nature.
The Liberal AGM concludes this evening with a banquet and speeches by Bokhari and Winnipeg North Liberal MP Kevin Lamoureux.