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This article was published 3/1/2015 (2352 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The next 15 months will be critical for Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari as she ramps up her party for a possible breakthrough showing in the next provincial election, expected in April 2016.
In a little more than a year since winning the Liberal leadership, the 37-year-old lawyer has concentrated most of her energies on fundraising and rebuilding the party.
Bokhari has only begun to make policy pronouncements in recent months, calling for more public funding for the services provided by psychologists and an improved method in accounting for monies raised by the PST for spending on infrastructure. She has vowed to make more frequent policy announcements in the new year.
In a year-end interview, Bokhari took pride in drawing new blood to the party, noting all the new faces at a fall party fundraiser featuring Ontario Liberal Premier Kathleen Wynne.
"It was a completely different group of people, and nobody knew each other," she said of the event that drew 230 people.
The Manitoba Liberals possess only one seat in the Manitoba legislature -- River Heights, held by Jon Gerrard.
A Liberal official would not reveal a party membership total, but said it is comparable to the 2,146 who were signed up prior to the Liberal leadership convention in October 2013. The previous year, there were only 700 registered Manitoba provincial Liberals.
More important, the official said, is the 21 per cent year-over-year increase in the number of Manitobans who make monthly donations to the party. He did not reveal exactly how many.
Bokhari sat down with the Free Press at her office this week. The interview has been edited and condensed.
Free Press: The NDP has been in turmoil for some time; it's at 28 per cent in the polls. The Liberals are at about 20 per cent. The next election presents a great opportunity for your party. How do you seize that opportunity?
Bokhari: I know it's an opportunity. We are going to do everything that we can to seize that opportunity. But I don't want to seize that opportunity because the NDP are failing. I want to seize the opportunity because I truly believe that the people of this province are done with... the situation that the province is in right now. I think about it more in terms of "how do we work hard to seize the opportunity for change." My focus can't be them (the NDP). My focus has to be the people of this province. How do we provide them with an alternative? What do we present to them that will make them see something in us where they will trust us with their vote?
FP: What are you doing to build your public profile?
Bokhari: I am out in public all the time. I'm at events day in and day out. I'm meeting with people anywhere and everywhere. I love it. It's the best part of my job. It's the part I'm most passionate about. I think for media, the criticism really lies in the fact that I'm not in the leg(islature). They don't see me during scrums. But I'm not going to ever accept the premise that I'm not out in public.
FP: To build a public profile, though, don't you have to be more visible in the media?
Bokhari: You're right. But in that first year, we had to do what we could do with the resources that we had. Our plan is to move forward, release policies as they come along. I do believe that candidate nominations will also help build the momentum and the profile.
FP: How is the nomination process coming along? In the last election, it was a real struggle for your party to nominate candidates in all 57 constituencies.
Bokhari: It won't be a last-minute process. Absolutely not. January is when we'll start nominations. If things go the way they're set up right now, I would hope by summer to have eight to 10 nominated. I think that's a reasonable place to be. I don't want to say for sure because things may change with the federal election.
FP: When would you want all candidates nominated for an election expected in April 2016?
Bokhari: My personal goal is to have the majority of them nominated by the end of December. The key ones need to be nominated by the end of the year because I need to give these guys a chance to be out there.
FP: Have you picked a constituency for yourself?
Bokhari: I think we're honing in on two right now. (Refuses to say which ones.) To be honest, it's not that I'm afraid to declare. That's not the issue. It's just that I need to make sure that the team around me is very strong. I need to make sure that if I'm running in an area, to be honest with you, that there's nobody better to run in that area. I don't want to throw myself in Place X when there's a quality candidate that would be much more representative of that community than me.
FP: But obviously your own candidacy is important, too. You have to go where you have the best chance of winning.
Bokhari: There are many things that come into play. In six months, we'll know much more.
We work tirelessly. We do everything that we can with the resources we have. We're comparing ourselves against the Opposition party (Conservatives). They have candidates in place. They have tons of money. And you have a (governing party) that has the same thing -- they have incumbents, they have this, they have that. I'm doing what I can with what I have. And believe me, it's not even a quarter of what they have.
FP: How is your policy platform going to roll out? You've made a few announcements. Are you going to release more policy planks in the coming months or are you going to wait until closer to the election?
Bokhari: I was very comfortable with releasing one every little while. It gave people an understanding of where our heads were at, right? That's something I want to continue doing and seeing how that works -- trying for one every month. Sometimes it's not possible, due to resources, but we're going to try.
FP: Who is coming up with the policies? Is it you and a group of advisers for the most part?
Bokhari: It is a group of advisers. I'm very fortunate that we have a lot of people wanting to come and sit down with us and help in our policy development. For example, in health, we have some GPs who have decided they're willing to be on the committee. There's a kidney doctor. There's all these people who are willing and they're practical guys. They're in the field and they know the day-to-day functioning of the system. We have four advisory groups established, with others in progress.
FP: During the civic election, you supported Brian Bowman, a candidate with Conservative ties. Why did you support him for mayor?
Bokhari: This question has never come up before. Thank you for asking it. I will always, regardless of partisanship, support good people. I will support anyone if they have a vision for the province that I can get on board with. When it came to Brian, I knew that he was the best person for this job. I know him. I believe in him... My reason for backing him is that it is a new generation of leadership. I wanted to back somebody who was very similar to what I view the future of this province looking like.
FP: What's attractive about him?
Bokhari: He ran his campaign the way I would have wanted our mayor to run a campaign. He's young, he's vibrant, he's energetic, he's engaging. People respect him. He's a well-known professional in his field. I know him through law. I know he's a very ethical person. He takes that part of his job very seriously, as I do.
FP: So is it more the energy he brings than the policies?
Bokhari: It's vision. I'm a vision person, I'm an energy person. I'm a passion person because I truly believe that if you don't have a vision, what are you aiming for? What's your direction?
FP: So what is your vision for our province?
Bokhari: I have a lot of visions for our province (laughs). But ideally, in a perfect world, I want an economic environment that's booming. I want Manitoba to be the hub of something. I want Manitoba to be the IT capital of this country or the innovation capital of this country. I want something that is so specific to Manitoba that nobody can beat us at it. Literally, we give ourselves something that is so phenomenal that is so out of this world... And the funny thing is that we have the resources. We can actually to do it if we just allow people to grow and be who they are. When I travel, I meet these young guys and they have all these ideas and they're workable, they're doable -- if we just facilitate that growth. I'd love to see our manufacturing industry rise above Saskatchewan's. I believe there is no reason we shouldn't be leading Saskatchewan in manufacturing. I would just feel that we would be so blessed if we could just get to the point where we didn't have our hands out begging to the feds for equalization payments and be a "have" province.
FP: So what's holding us back?
Bokhari: We need new faces, new ideas, new blood. People who are not so caught up in the politics of it all. We need a new narrative, we need a new conversation. We need to change what politics is. That is really something that I hope that we can do in the future as a Liberal party.
Larry Kusch didn’t know what he wanted to do with his life until he attended a high school newspaper editor’s workshop in Regina in the summer of 1969 and listened to a university student speak glowingly about the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa.