His provincial Liberals are sinking in the polls, and one of his own candidates mused this week that the party was on the verge of being wiped off the political map.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/9/2011 (3669 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A stoic Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard with Seine River candidate Troy Osiname, talking to (seated, left) Leonard Zirul and Joel Shaw Friday.

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

A stoic Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard with Seine River candidate Troy Osiname, talking to (seated, left) Leonard Zirul and Joel Shaw Friday.

His provincial Liberals are sinking in the polls, and one of his own candidates mused this week that the party was on the verge of being wiped off the political map.

But just when things couldn't get much worse for Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard, he learned two prominent supporters had turned colours.

John Harvard: 'progressive thinking'

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

John Harvard: 'progressive thinking'

Two former Manitoba Liberal MPs, John Harvard and Anita Neville, have endorsed the NDP's Theresa Oswald, in the south Winnipeg constituency of Seine River. Harvard also endorsed NDPer Sharon Blady in Kirkfield Park.

The endorsements came in a letter to constituents in each of the two ridings. The NDP distributed the letters, both dated Sept. 27, to residents who had previously indicated that they planned to vote Liberal.

Although he likely felt betrayed, Gerrard didn't show it when he faced a gaggle of reporters at an impromptu news conference in a coffee-shop parking lot on St. Mary's Road Friday morning. "Disappointment" was the strongest term he used -- despite plenty of urging by reporters to speak his mind.

All he did, though, was express his, and his party's, "full support" for Seine River Liberal candidate Troy Osiname, who was standing at his side and whom he described as "a very talented and intelligent community leader."

The endorsement of Oswald, the NDP health minister, especially stung Gerrard, a former pediatrician and medical researcher, who has been at his best during the campaign on the topic of health care. "I'm very disappointed in any public endorsement of Theresa Oswald when we have a much better plan for health care (than the NDP)," he said.

Anita Neville: not switching parties

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Anita Neville: not switching parties

Political scientist Paul Thomas said the endorsements of NDP incumbents by two Liberal party stalwarts had to be a huge blow for Gerrard.

"It's a team sport (politics). And the social psychology of it is that loyalty counts most when you're in trouble...And they're in deep trouble," Thomas said of the Liberals.

A Free Press/Probe Research poll released Friday put Liberal support at only seven per cent provincewide. Earlier in the week, Harry Wolbert, a provincial Liberal executive member and the party's candidate in St. Vital, expressed concern that the Liberals could be wiped out in the Oct. 4 election. Wolbert also said the "writing may be on the wall" for Gerrard. He later expressed support for his leader on Twitter.

Thomas said Gerrard has worked tirelessly for his party since becoming leader in 1998. He has served in the legislature for a dozen years but risks losing his River Heights seat this time around.

Theresa Oswald: in tough fight

KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES

Theresa Oswald: in tough fight

"It's a measure of Jon Gerrard's decency that he didn't lash out at these people who have torpedoed his prospects for having a decent showing," Thomas said.

The letter endorsing Oswald was also signed by Richard Diamond, past president of the Young Liberals of Canada, and Christine Hanlon, a federal Liberal member and Seine River resident. The letter backing Blady was co-signed by Brian Head, president of the Charleswood Assiniboia Federal Liberal Association.

Harvard and Neville said Friday they had not changed party allegiances. They were simply supporting worthy candidates in ridings in which the Liberals had no chance of winning. Oswald, an MLA since 2003, has her hands full in Seine River against former city councillor, Conservative Gord Steeves. Blady, meanwhile, is battling for her political life against the Tories' Kelly de Groot.

Neither Harvard nor Neville lives in either Seine River or Kirkfield Park.

"In my opinion, if it's not possible to elect a Liberal or Liberals in those two ridings, then I'll simply move to the next best choice," said Harvard, adding Oswald and Blady are candidates "who represent progressive thinking."

Reached in Toronto, Neville said her support was for Oswald alone -- it was not a blanket endorsement of the NDP. "I did not make this decision lightly," she said. "I'm a strong, firm, committed Liberal who is active in Liberal campaigns and supporting other Liberal candidates."

The two 30-something Liberals who are running in Seine River and Kirkfield Park weren't impressed that the two party elders had written them off.

Osiname applauded Gerrard for surrounding himself with lots of younger candidates. "He's willing to take a chance on youth, and that's what's important," he said.

Syed Bokari, who is running in Kirkfield Park, said "it's sad" that party veterans like Harvard and Neville are not supporting young candidates such as Osiname and himself. "We are there. We are relevant. We do exist. And we're going to make a difference," he vowed.

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