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Rivals take on tough issues at forum

Manitoba Grits air views on PST, Hydro, poverty, jobs

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Manitoba's would-be Liberal leaders agree the PST hike ought to be repealed, more must be spent on infrastructure, and job creation is key to combatting poverty and retaining young people.

In a collegial, wide-ranging discussion Thursday morning at the Winnipeg Free Press News Caf©, 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 lost through limited job opportunities, addictions and 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 and reducing the desperation that drives some to suicide or the sex trade. He called for more affordable housing, arguing 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 to determine whether there is a guaranteed market for Manitoba's electricity.

Lamont said Hydro is one of the province's best resources, but the Crown corporation 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 government 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 disputed the notion that leading the Liberals may be the toughest gig in Manitoba politics, as the party was reduced to one seat in the legislature in the last election and struggles for traction as all parties edge toward the centre of the political spectrum.

He said the Tories are far from centrist and have joined the NDP in descending to name-calling recently. Lamont said it speaks well of the grassroots health of the Liberals that there's a genuine contest for the leadership, unlike Tory Leader Brian Pallister's acclamation.

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" that voters, especially minorities, can relate to, she said.

"Stand up. We have a voice."

Bokhari said her first priority as leader would be be bolstering membership roles and the party's finances, then looking at party policies.

On Twitter late Thursday, Bob Axworthy revealed he will announce his bid for the Liberal leadership today.

The Liberals vote Oct. 26 to replace longtime leader Jon Gerrard.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 20, 2013 A10

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Updated on Friday, September 20, 2013 at 6:50 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds video

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