The new leader of the Manitoba Liberal Party has indicated she will not seek election in one of two byelections expected this fall. As well, Rana Bokhari, the 36-year-old lawyer who on Saturday won the leadership vacated by Jon Gerrard, seems to agree he can stay on as MLA for River Heights for as long as he wishes. In other words, she seems to believe she can rebuild a moribund party from outside the legislature.
That might be the wise course for Ms. Bokhari. The fact is the Manitoba Liberal Party is pretty much nonexistent outside of Winnipeg, and not that much stronger inside the city. Getting it tuned up for the next election will be a massive undertaking. Significantly growing Liberal support should be Ms. Bokhari's No. 1 priority.
But if Ms. Bokhari wants to be leader of more than a few thousand card-carrying Liberals, she has to attract non-Liberals. To do that, she has to get their attention, and the quickest, most available way to do that is to seek office, even against daunting odds in a Tory stronghold like Morris.
Much has been made of the parallels between Ms. Bokhari and Sharon Carstairs, the most successful Manitoba Liberal leader in modern times.
When Ms. Carstairs won the leadership in 1984, there were no Liberals in the legislature but, as now, the NDP government was in decline. At the first opportunity, Ms. Carstairs contested a byelection. She lost but got people's attention. Two years later she was elected, and two years after that she was leader of the opposition.
Polls show disaffection with the NDP has led to a vast improvement in Liberal polling numbers. They also show Manitoba liberals are drifting back to the federal Liberal party under Justin Trudeau, who is trying mightily to win two federal byelections in Manitoba on Nov. 25. Both are long shots in Tory strongholds, but Mr. Trudeau seems think there is no shame in placing second.
Ms. Bokhari, of course, will lead as she thinks best. But the examples of Ms. Carstairs and Mr. Trudeau illustrate it doesn't hurt Grits to show grit.