November 11, 2019

Winnipeg
-14° C, A few clouds

Full Forecast

New credibility

Liberal leader settles into new role as elected official

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/7/2018 (480 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 18/7/2018 (480 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Dougald Lamont says his victory in the St. Boniface byelection is a key step in transforming the Liberals into a credible force in Manitoba politics.

(RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Freshly elected Liberal leader Dougald Lamont.

(RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) Freshly elected Liberal leader Dougald Lamont.

No longer are there questions about his personal electability, the Liberal leader said Wednesday. His 855-vote plurality Tuesday over runner-up Blandine Tona of the NDP took care of that.

"Normally, (it's said), you have to be credible to be elected, but I knew I had to get elected to be credible," Lamont said in an interview in the Liberals' modest offices in the Manitoba Legislative Building.

Lamont's victory gives the party a fourth seat in the legislature and official party status, which comes with more funding for staff, a greater ability to ask questions in the house and a bigger role in legislative committees.

"Normally, (it's said), you have to be credible to be elected, but I knew I had to get elected to be credible." -Dougald Lamont

The Liberals, and especially their leader, will also gain a higher profile as media outlets seek their comment more often on the issues of the day.

Lamont said he and his party will have to continue to prove themselves in the lead-up to the October 2020 general election.

But Tuesday's victory will give them a boost in several ways. First of all, the cash-strapped party will no longer have to pay Lamont a salary — the people of Manitoba will do that once he is sworn in as an MLA, which will likely occur before the end of the month.

The win will also make it easier for the Liberals to attract volunteers — and money — to the provincial wing of the party. Having a more competitive provincial organization with a highly visible leader generates greater interest from would-be supporters.

"Part of it is that people have to see that there is potential (for victory) there. Or that there is opportunity," said Lamont, 49, a former marketing and communications consultant.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Lamont's win gives his party enough seats for official party status and the funding that comes with it.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Lamont's win gives his party enough seats for official party status and the funding that comes with it.

In the 2016 general election, expectations were high the Liberals would make big gains at the ballot box, perhaps even becoming the province's official opposition.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>The Liberals' 2016 campaign, under then-leader Rana Bokhari, fizzled and she later stepped down.

DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

The Liberals' 2016 campaign, under then-leader Rana Bokhari, fizzled and she later stepped down.

But the campaign, under then-leader Rana Bokhari, fizzled and she later stepped down, paving the way for Lamont, who won a three-way leadership contest last October against caucus members Jon Gerrard and Cindy Lamoureux.

There have been rumours of conflict and strife within the provincial Liberal party in recent months. Five key volunteers, including three executive members, stepped down from their roles this spring.

During the St. Boniface byelection, Gerrard was the only caucus member who visibly campaigned for Lamont day in and day out.

NDP leader shrugs off campaign criticism

While political scientists are calling the NDP decimation a “disaster,” the party leader said “hyperbole” about losing their long-time St. Boniface seat isn’t warranted, although talk of the byelection still stings.

While political scientists are calling the NDP decimation a “disaster,” the party leader said “hyperbole” about losing their long-time St. Boniface seat isn’t warranted, although talk of the byelection still stings.

On the way back from a powwow ceremony in Agassiz Wednesday, Wab Kinew shrugged off criticisms of the NDP campaign from the night before when Blandine Tona placed second, trailing the victor, Liberal leader Dougald Lamont, by 855 votes.

“I think we had a good candidate and a good campaign, however running against a leader is tough,” he said of Lamont.

“The Liberals have a strong brand with Justin Trudeau right now and I guess residents in St. Boniface decided that they wanted to have a leader of a party represent them.”

When he won his Fort Rouge seat in 2016, Kinew beat out former Liberal leader, Rana Bokhari, showing the party was capable of such a feat. It appears the NDP low-balled the Liberals’ ground game this time around.

“I think I may have underestimated what it takes to beat a leader, and in a byelection situation where a party is able to throw all resources there, I think it changes the dynamic a bit. But I also think that this byelection was well fought on our side in a few respects,” Kinew said, noting the NDP focused on talk about healthcare, education and environmental issues, which seemed to resonate with voters.

Asked how badly the St. Boniface loss hurt the NDP – whose former MLA Greg Selinger previously held the seat since 1999 and resigned in March – Kinew said he is a “very competitive person by nature and I do not like to lose.”

“But there’s a saying… you win or you learn,” he said. “And what I’m doing now is just trying to figure out what can we do to ensure that we’re going to be more successful in elections in the future.”

Kelly Saunders, an associate professor in political science at Brandon University, believes voters were more focused on Kinew's track record than Lamont's when heading to the polls. She agreed having a party leader present in the St. Boniface race may have shifted the outcome, but ultimately the byelection result was "more a referendum on the NDP."

"There will be a little bit of a bounce perhaps given the fact that (Lamont) is a new leader and people are kind of intrigued by that. But you don’t look at the kind of numbers that both the NDP and interestingly the Tories lost from 2016 to 2018... and say, ‘Oh, it’s just the novelty of being able to vote for a Liberal Party leader.’ Those numbers are much more troubling than that," Saunders said. 

PC candidate Mamadou Ka finished in last place with 834 votes, while Green candidate Françoise Therrien Vrignon came third with 1,017 votes.

Saunders believes NDP faithful are still frustrated by the party's handling of sexual harassment allegations involving former cabinet minister Stan Struthers.

"We’re hearing out here (in Brandon) there’s still in-fighting within the party and the leader, Wab Kinew, has really isolated himself with only a few core supporters and is really marginalized from big segments of his caucus," Saunders said. (Bernadette Smith was the only member of the NDP caucus besides Kinew to show up at Tona's results party Tuesday.) 

Because the Struthers' allegations embroiled Selinger -- he was premier at the time the alleged incidents of inappropriate touching and tickling occurred -- Kinew asked the St. Boniface MLA to step down.

Raymond Hébert, a professor emeritus in political science at the Université de Saint-Boniface, said Selinger's popularity in the riding didn't translate to votes for his rookie succesor. 

“It was a disaster pretty well for the NDP all around. There were no parts of the riding where they really had very strong support," Hébert said. 

He crunched the unofficial polling numbers at the returning officer's office Tuesday night (the official numbers may not be ready for months, an Elections Manitoba spokesperson said Wednesday) and found Tona won only 12 of 49 voting areas. The Green Party won one section and Lamont took the rest. Residents in Old St. Boniface in particular strongly supported the Liberal leader, Hébert said.

He believes Kinew's leadership capacity is still being questioned in St. Boniface and province-wide.

“He has yet to demonstrate that he is a strong leader and that he’s competent. I don’t meet many people who think that he would be a premier, that he’s material for a future premier," Hébert said.

For his part, Kinew said calling the NDP's loss a "disaster" is overdramatic.

"Often folks have their own agendas and partisan leanings when they use hyperbole like that," he said. "For me, I would have much rather won the byelection last night for sure,100 per cent. But I respect the people of St. Boniface who voted yesterday and I’m going to learn from it and recommit to rebuilding the NDP with those lessons in mind." 

jessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @_jessbu

Lamont dismissed the notion there are significant problems within the party. He said members of Lamoureux's leadership campaign team "were all hugely involved (in the St. Boniface effort), almost on a daily basis."

Judy Klassen, the Liberal MLA for Keewatinook, has an enormous northern riding to represent, he noted, in explaining her absence from the campaign trail.

As for the earlier resignations, which included that of the party president, Paul Brault, Lamont put it down to differences of opinion, which, he said, occur in all political parties.

Winnipeg political scientist Christopher Adams said Tuesday's win will likely smooth over some of these tensions.

"I would say that the walkout that he experienced some months ago will become a memory," Adams said Wednesday.

(RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) "Part of it is that people have to see that there is potential (for victory) there. Or that there is opportunity," said Lamont, 49, a former marketing and communications consultant.

(RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS) "Part of it is that people have to see that there is potential (for victory) there. Or that there is opportunity," said Lamont, 49, a former marketing and communications consultant.

Lamont will be a busy man in the coming weeks and months. He will have to set up his constituency office and organize the operations of the Liberal caucus, which will now have a bigger staff that comes with party status in the legislature.

Retired University of Manitoba political scientist Paul Thomas said Lamont will also have to gain consensus within caucus on the strategy and tactics it will employ when the legislature resumes in October, so the party can be seen as an effective opposition and potential alternative government.

Outside the legislature, Lamont must continue to build constituency associations, identify and recruit potential candidates and develop fund-raising capacity, Thomas said.

Asked Wednesday whether his byelection victory had sunk in yet, Lamont said: "My joke is that I'll wait until the first paycheque clears... You never know what (the Progressive Conservatives) are going to cut next."

larry.kusch@freepress.mb.ca

Larry Kusch

Larry Kusch
Legislature Reporter

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.

Read full biography

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.