A Winnipeg lawyer and political neophyte scored a first-ballot victory at Saturday’s Manitoba Liberal leadership convention in Winnipeg.
Rana Bokhari, a first-generation Canadian who grew up on a family farm near Anola, will lead Manitoba’s third party into the next provincial election, expected in the spring of 2016. She succeeds Jon Gerrard, who had been leader for the past 15 years.
Bokhari received 431 votes on the first ballot, while organizers had declared 430 were needed to win. The runner-up was Winnipeg businessman and author Dougald Lamont with 285 votes. Bob Axworthy, a consultant and longtime party insider, received 131 votes.
"Yes! What an emotional roller-coaster! Wow!" Bokhari exclaimed as she took the podium, surrounded by supporters and family members.
"Tomorrow, the hard work begins of strengthening the Manitoba Liberal Party. Today we celebrate the starting of a new era of this party," she said.
Some, 2,146 Manitoba Liberals were eligible to vote in the leadership race. A total of 857 votes were cast. There were 10 spoiled ballots.
Most Liberals who participated in the vote — 665 — cast preferential ballots on Wednesday at an advanced poll at the the party’s headquarters on Broadway or mailed in their vote.
Fewer than 300 Liberals attended the convention itself and many of those who did had voted in advance.
Gerrard, the MLA for River Heights, is the lone Liberal in the Manitoba legislature, which resumes sitting Nov. 12.
Bokhari said her first goal is to rebuild the party, expanding its membership base and bring in needed funds. She already has a successful track record in the community in raising money for charitable causes.
"There’s a lot of work to be done but I’m up for the challenge," said Bokhari, who turned 36 on Wednesday.
"My focus is to get a strong foundation in place for the party so we can be in some kind of fighting form in the next election."
Some Liberals grew impatient at the long wait for the vote count on Saturday afternoon. A few with other commitments wondered out loud if they would have time to vote in a potential second ballot. The first-ballot result was not announced until several hours after voting had taken place.
Party officials said, however, that it took time to count all the advance and mail-in votes — all of which were preferential ballots in which voters gave their first and second choices.
It also became apparent some recounting was done because of the razor-thin margin of Bokhari’s first-ballot victory.