Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Gerrard's future in question

Liberals fail to garner 10 per cent of popular vote needed for rebate

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If you read between the lines, Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard may not be leader for long.

The gentlemanly former pediatrician hung on to his River Heights seat Tuesday night. He called the victory "bittersweet" since his party fell well short in three other target ridings and saw its share of the popular vote eroded.

Questions about his future as leader have often dogged Gerrard, and they were the first queries Tuesday night. Gerrard demurred, but hinted he may be willing to step aside.

"I'm not going to talk about my future tonight except to say I am committed to serving the people of River Heights for four more years," he said.

Speaking to a small crowd in a cosy room in the River Heights Community Centre, where candidates and volunteers gathered for a social complete with cold cuts and pickles, Gerrard thanked his candidates, noting many of them were young and will be tapped to help rebuild the party.

Unintentionally invoking Martin Luther King, Gerrard called the Liberals the conscience of the province.

"We have a dream that there will someday be a Liberal government in Manitoba," he said.

Though their platform was widely hailed as reasonable and progressive, it was a brutal campaign for the Liberals, especially in the second half of the race, when the hits just kept on coming. Not only was Gerrard faced with an aggressive campaign by Conservative candidate Marty Morantz in River Heights, he was battered by poll after poll putting the Liberals at single digits.

In the waning days of the campaign, one candidate questioned Gerrard's leadership, and two local Liberals, former MPs Anita Neville and John Harvard, threw their support behind Health Minister Theresa Oswald in the Seine River riding. Gerrard called the snub "disappointing." Neville and Harvard later endorsed Gerrard in River Heights, but the damage was done.

The party targeted four seats, hoping to hold on to River Heights and pick up Fort Rouge, Burrows and the new-ish riding of Tyndall Park. They lost handily in all three and saw their share of the vote slip from 12 per cent in 2007 to just seven per cent last night.

Tuesday's results carry an additional sting. Parties that don't garner 10 per cent of the popular vote aren't eligible for the government rebate of 50 per cent of eligible campaign expenses. That could put the party, already at a financial disadvantage, in dire straits, but officials said the party had planned for several contingencies.

The party's rules call for an automatic leadership review at the first annual general meeting following an election. The next AGM is slated for March, but it's likely Gerrard will initiate a conversation about his future as leader in the coming weeks before a party board meeting.

It would be unusual for a party to have a leader with no seat in the legislature, but some eyes have already settled on lawyer Paul Hesse, who has now twice been defeated in Fort Rouge by the NDP. Other possible leadership contenders include former city councillor and frequent federal Liberal candidate Terry Duguid or the young Richard Diamond.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2011 B4

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