October 23, 2018

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Opinion

Gerrard's leadership bid a doomed effort

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Judy Klassen, Interim leader of the Liberal Party of Manitoba, says Manitoba can't afford to give up the $40 million in health-care funding that Ottawa is offering.</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Judy Klassen, Interim leader of the Liberal Party of Manitoba, says Manitoba can't afford to give up the $40 million in health-care funding that Ottawa is offering.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/6/2017 (484 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It is well understood in politics that if you decide to run for public office or seek the leadership of a party, you must consult with friends, colleagues, power brokers and opinion leaders of all shapes and sizes.

As a prospective candidate, you will want to know whether they think you are electable, what place you might hold in a party’s power structure, how much financial support you might be able to count on or, in the case of a leadership bid, what sort of endorsements might be coming your way.

There are no sure things in politics, but it certainly helps to spend time gauging potential support before throwing yourself into the maelstrom.

It is equally understood in political circles that during your consultations, you will end up coming into contact with people who will encourage you to run, even when you really shouldn’t.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/6/2017 (484 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It is well understood in politics that if you decide to run for public office or seek the leadership of a party, you must consult with friends, colleagues, power brokers and opinion leaders of all shapes and sizes.

As a prospective candidate, you will want to know whether they think you are electable, what place you might hold in a party’s power structure, how much financial support you might be able to count on or, in the case of a leadership bid, what sort of endorsements might be coming your way.

There are no sure things in politics, but it certainly helps to spend time gauging potential support before throwing yourself into the maelstrom.

It is equally understood in political circles that during your consultations, you will end up coming into contact with people who will encourage you to run, even when you really shouldn’t.

Enter the political sycophants.

Sycophants are typically among the ranks of those who are closest to a politician. They are long on enthusiasm, but very short on influence, financial resources, political acumen or organizational skills. As a result, their advice is entirely useless.

Just recently, it appears the sycophants are rearing their ugly heads in the Manitoba Liberal Party leadership race.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files</p><p>Cindy Lamoureux is one of the three Liberal MLAs</p>

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files

Cindy Lamoureux is one of the three Liberal MLAs

Former leader Jon Gerrard, the MLA for River Heights, announced he will take another run at the helm of the provincial Grits. Now 69, Gerrard said he was encouraged to seek a second term as leader by people who are alarmed at the austerity policies of the Progressive Conservative government.

"I have many people who have come to me and said, ‘Jon, we need you. We want you back as leader,’" Gerrard told reporters at a June 16 news conference.

It’s hardly surprising Gerrard found someone who would encourage him to take another shot at leading. Sycophants are everywhere in politics, taking the form of trusted friends, family members and long-time colleagues.

In this instance, however, you must really wonder what it is that these diehard Gerrard supporters see when they urge him to return to leadership.

Just about anyone that follows Manitoba politics would agree Gerrard is one of the most thoughtful, intelligent and unsuccessful politicians this province has ever seen.

He is articulate in debate and knowledgeable on policy issues. He demonstrates a nearly inexhaustible capacity to attend community events. He has also proven to be a formidable incumbent in River Heights, stoically holding on to his seat since 1999.

At the same time, however, Gerrard has proven himself to be very bad at retail politics and organizational tasks.

Under his stewardship, the Manitoba Liberals never elected more than two MLAs, achieved official party status or drew more than 13 per cent of the popular vote.

Jon Gerrard, who led the Liberal party from 1998 to 2013, will make an announcement on the steps of the legislature at noon Friday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)</p>

Jon Gerrard, who led the Liberal party from 1998 to 2013, will make an announcement on the steps of the legislature at noon Friday. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

Perhaps more importantly, when Gerrard finally stepped down as leader in 2013, he left behind a party that had no money or organizational structure. Many of the Liberal riding associations had simply evaporated, making it very difficult for the Grits to recruit candidates, sell memberships or raise funds.

Given all that, it was hardly surprising his successor, Rana Bokhari, struggled. History will show Bokhari ultimately lacked the skill and acumen to capitalize on voters’ distrust of Premier Brian Pallister and disgust of Greg Selinger and the NDP.

History must also note she inherited a party that was clearly dysfunctional, a legacy of Gerrard’s leadership.

Gerrard clearly believes experience is his greatest attribute in this leadership race. He is running against two inexperienced MLAs — Cindy Lamoureux and Judy Klassen — and another, Dougald Lamont, who has never been elected to public office and finished second to Bokhari in 2013. Even so, it is hard to believe that Gerrard can find a broad base of support beyond the inner circle that encouraged him to run for the leadership a second time.

If Gerrard needs a cautionary tale, he need only look as far as the recently vanquished Selinger, who faced a watershed moment two years ago when members of the NDP caucus began making it clear they did not want him leading the party into the 2016 election. Selinger consulted with his inner circle and then with all the MLAs and cabinet ministers he led. By all accounts, most people told him to step down; Selinger chose instead to listen to those who were closest to him and stayed on.

The rest, as they say, is a woeful bit of history. Selinger’s decision to fight for his job — he beat Steve Ashton and Theresa Oswald in a special leadership convention — was a only a short-term gain that precipitated long-term pain, as witnessed by the complete thrashing the NDP suffered in the 2016 election. Selinger should have listened to the voices of reason that asked him to step down. Instead, he relied on people who were so close to him, they only knew how to tell him exactly what he wanted to hear.

Gerrard would be well advised to study Selinger’s mistakes in judgment and ask himself whether he’s about to follow the same path. Gerrard had his shot at leadership and he failed to make the Liberals a viable option for Manitoba voters.

The Liberal failure in the last election is not an open invitation for this former leader to rise again. It is a reminder the Grits have yet to find the right leader who can take them to the promised land.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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