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Task ahead: a rebuild job that lasts

Young Grit chief looks beyond next election

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Rana Bokhari has high ambitions for the Manitoba Liberal Party.

In an interview Sunday, the new Grit leader said she wants to lay a foundation that will make the party a big player in the province's political scene for generations to come.

That's why she has told anyone who has asked her during the leadership campaign that culminated with her narrow first-ballot victory Saturday her first priorities are to expand the party's membership and to raise enough money to make the Liberals a force to be reckoned with.

"I'm not trying to build a foundation for just the next election. I'm trying to build a foundation that generations can build off of in the future -- one that is strong enough that it will not crumble if something goes wrong," the energetic 36-year-old lawyer said.

'I'm trying to build a foundation that generations can build off of in the future -- one that is strong enough that it will not crumble if something goes wrong'

Bokhari has not set specific fundraising or membership goals yet. For now, her attitude is the more the better.

"Election campaigns are very expensive," she said. "We need to be able to support our candidates and we need to be able to defend ourselves."

On Saturday, Bokhari, a first-generation Canadian who grew up on a farm east of Winnipeg, defeated longtime Liberal insider Bob Axworthy and author and businessman Dougald Lamont in becoming the first Canadian from South Asian descent to lead a political party in Manitoba.

Helping to propel the political rookie to victory was the fact she sold more than 600 party memberships in the two months leading to the late-September sales deadline.

The party has about 2,150 members. Only 857 cast ballots for the leadership -- either in advance polling or at the Saturday vote.

Bokhari won with 431 votes, just one more than the 430 the party declared was necessary for victory on the first ballot. Lamont came in second with 285 votes, while Axworthy, brother of former federal Liberal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy, received just 131 votes.

Bokhari succeeds Jon Gerrard, the longtime MLA for River Heights and the only Liberal in the 57-seat Manitoba legislature.

The Liberals under Gerrard often produced solid election platforms but generally lacked the resources to sell them. To Bokhari, that approach is tantamount to putting the cart before the horse. That's why she's made few policy statements in the run-up to the leadership. She's content to build the Liberal base before embarking on any ambitious policy reviews.

She will also -- at least for now -- continue to practise law on a limited basis as she takes on the party's reins. Unlike Gerrard, she will not draw an MLA's salary. For now, the Liberals have budgeted a $50,000-a-year stipend for the new leader.

"We do need to pay our staff; we do need to be able to pay our leader. And if that means the leader needs to be on the ground running, fundraising for their own salary, for the salary of their staff... then that's what we have to do and build from there," Bokhari said Sunday.

She already has a successful track record in raising money for charitable causes. She is confident she can put that experience to work in strengthening the Liberal party and give it a shot at electoral victory down the road.

Bokhari said she will use the same energy and determination that saw her enter university as a mature student in 2006 and earn degrees in criminology, psychology and law -- plus complete pre-master's courses in criminology -- by 2012.

"I powered through it," she said. "It's a personality thing -- if I want it I get it."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 28, 2013 0

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Updated on Monday, October 28, 2013 at 8:42 AM CDT: Replaces photo, adds video

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