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This article was published 5/10/2011 (3589 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
LIBERAL Leader Jon Gerrard left little doubt Wednesday that his time at the helm of the party is coming to an end.
But Gerrard has a to-do list before he decides on the timing of his departure.
He wants to thank Liberal candidates and volunteers, prepare for the upcoming fall legislative session and pay off the party's debt. Only then will he begin to plan when to step down as leader and how to begin a transition, a process that could take months or even years.
"There's no rush," Gerrard said. "I've got to make my own decision in my own time."
Gerrard hung on to his River Heights riding Tuesday night but failed to pick up any more seats and saw the party's share of the popular vote drop to seven per cent from 12 per cent in 2007.
Party insiders say the Liberals must embark on a wholesale rebuilding that includes a new leader but isn't confined to that. The party took a significant financial hit Tuesday because it did not get the 10 per cent of the vote needed to make it eligible for a 50 per cent campaign-expenses rebate. That means the Liberals will likely spend months clawing their way out of debt before they can begin to replenish party coffers.
Gerrard said he wants to ensure the new leader inherits a debt-free party. When Gerrard became leader in late 1998, the Grits were more than $30,000 in debt. Gerrard said the red ink isn't as bad this year.
Some Liberal provincial election candidates, such as police officer Gerard Allard in St. James and water activist Kevin Freedman in Fort Garry-Riverview, were widely viewed as solid. Others were marginal, even kooky, and many did not have offices or volunteers. Riding-by-riding grassroots organizing and fundraising also should be on the agenda, party members said.
Gerrard said Tuesday night he is committed to serving River Heights as MLA for the next four years.
It seems party activists, out of respect for Gerrard, want to give him some time to make a decision. Several people said Wednesday it would be premature to speculate publicly about possible successors, though one, former federal Liberal candidate Terry Duguid, ruled himself out. "I have no interest in the leadership of the Manitoba Liberal Party," Duguid said.
Gerrard's timetable is expected to become clear well before the party's annual general meeting, which will likely be in March.
Unless Gerrard is willing to give up his seat in River Heights, it could be difficult for a new leader to squeeze his or her way into the legislature. And unless a new leader is willing to wait until 2015 for a seat, there would need to be a byelection in a riding the Liberals could win. In the past, politicians in safe ridings have resigned to free up a seat for a newly minted leader, such as when former Conservative cabinet minister Eric Stefanson retired so new leader Stuart Murray could run in Kirkfield Park. With one seat, the Liberals do not have that wiggle room.
It's possible, though not ideal, for Gerrard to continue as the only Liberal in the legislature while a new leader rebuilds the party from outside. But one senior party source said that's "ludicrous." It makes more sense for Gerrard to stay on as leader, providing a clear voice in question period and some continuity while the party regroups.