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This article was published 13/3/2015 (2387 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
BRANDON -- Stop me if you have heard this one before. A political party in Manitoba is polling somewhere above 20 per cent and nervous supporters are calling for the leader -- who they claim is out of touch with Manitobans and prone to dictatorial behaviour -- to be replaced so the party will be competitive in the next provincial election.
That probably sounds like the plot to the NDP drama that concluded last weekend with Premier Greg Selinger retaining his job by a razor-thin majority, but it is also the reality for the Manitoba Liberal Party and its rookie leader, Rana Bokhari.
Her detractors complain that since assuming command of the province's third-place party 18 months ago, she hasn't worked hard enough to familiarize herself with the many serious issues facing the province, and that most Manitobans neither know who she is nor what she stands for.
They argue Bokhari is squandering a golden opportunity for the party, at a time when many Manitobans are seeking a credible alternative to the NDP and Progressive Conservatives. With the election just 13 months away, they want her replaced before those favourable conditions vanish.
The emergence of Manitoba Forward, a group composed of experienced Liberal operatives and public policy experts that is currently attacking the Selinger government in radio ads, should be a concern for Bokhari and her supporters. So should the recent launch of a Twitter account named New Liberal Leader, which argues "the Manitoba Liberal Party has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build something great. We need a leader that is ready now to grab this opportunity."
Those hoping for Bokhari's removal as party leader are wasting their time. It is extremely unlikely she will voluntarily step down before the 2016 election, and there is no mechanism within the party's constitution that allows for her involuntary removal until after the election. Her critics can gripe on social media, but Bokhari's going nowhere for the time being.
The irony of the situation is that the Liberal party is polling at its highest level in years and, after the defeat of Theresa Oswald in last weekend's NDP leadership contest, that support could climb even higher in the coming months.
An experienced politician and gifted communicator, Oswald as NDP leader was the Liberals' most-feared scenario. With her out of the picture, Bokhari will have the advantage of campaigning as the sole female party leader, and a full generation younger than Selinger and Conservative Leader Brian Pallister.
Bokhari's gender, age and minority status won't be nearly enough to ensure Liberal success, however. She needs to become more knowledgeable and articulate on the many challenges with which the Selinger government is struggling. Indeed, her claim that she offers "balanced and practical solutions Manitobans are looking for" will never be regarded as credible by voters until they are confident she understands the problems.
Beyond that, Bokhari needs to approach the coming legislative session with far more energy than she has shown since becoming Liberal leader. She needs to be at the legislature every day, armed with cogent responses to issues as they arise.
She should also take advantage of Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard's ability to table private member's bills, offering innovative legislation that will force the NDP and Tories to either support the Liberals' ideas, thereby validating them, or oppose the proposals and risk offending certain segments of voters.
One possibility would be the introduction of the same controversial amendments to Manitoba's sex education curriculum as were recently introduced by Ontario's Liberal government. Others could be repealing the payroll tax, a new infrastructure funding scheme for Winnipeg, as well as anti-scab labour protection for unions.
It is a strategy that would give Liberals a profile they have not enjoyed in decades and also silence the bulk of Bokhari's critics. More importantly, it would go a great distance toward convincing Manitobans they have a viable third option in the next election.
The opportunity is there for Bokhari, but the unanswered question is whether she has the determination and intellect to grab it. If she doesn't, she will face the same challenges Selinger just survived, but the story will likely end far differently.
Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon.
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