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Bokhari gains support as Manitoba Liberals hold annual general meeting

WINNIPEG - Manitoba Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari won a key battle against internal dissent Friday, but her critics did not go quietly.

Shane Nestruck, a party member who has accused Bokhari of ignoring the grassroots and centralizing power, tried to have the issue discussed Friday night at the party's annual general meeting. But he was ruled out of order because he did not give advance notice of his motion.

Nestruck and about a dozen others objected loudly, but they did not get their way and Nestruck announced his resignation as a constituency president.

"The party is ruined," Nestruck said afterward.

"We saw again that this cabal at the centre of the party ... break the rules when they want."

Liberal officials set a tight agenda for the evening party business meeting, which was slated for an hour but lasted roughly half that long. No new issues were allowed to be discussed.

Behind the scenes, Bokhari and her supporters have been gaining more control of the party's 21-member board of directors.

Erena Donovan, one of the people visibly upset with Friday's events, did not run again for the director of organization slot. Dave Shorr, a strong Bokhari supporter, won by acclamation.

Val Thompson, who helped circulate an anti-Bokhari email last month, did not run again for head of the party's women's association. She was replaced Friday with Lisa Tjaden, who expressed "a great deal of respect" for Bokhari.

Nestruck said many of Bokhari's opponents are simply walking away.

"Everybody's just retiring and letting the party go its own way because there's no way (to fight) when people don't follow procedure."

The Liberals are trying to present a united front as the party tries to emerge from more than two decades in the political wilderness. The Liberals won just one seat in the legislature and garnered 7.5 per cent of the vote in 2011.

Recent polls suggest their support has shot up above 20 per cent as support for the governing New Democrats has slid.

The party's executive-director, Jeff Kovalik-Plouffe, said the party is uniting thanks in part to new members brought in by the party's leadership race last fall.

"I think the new members (Bokhari) has brought in have wanted to become active and have taken a stand in some of the (board) positions."

Kovalik-Plouffe said no party members were denied a right to speak Friday — the party was simply following the agenda all members voted for at the start of the meeting.

"The agenda was adopted right away, and if anyone had an objection to that, they should have raised that at that time."

More turmoil was expected Saturday when party members were scheduled to debate constitutional amendments, which Nestruck and others have complained will give too much power to Bokhari's inner circle.

Bokhari told reporters there is no move to centralize power and most party members are focused on the next election instead of dissent.

"The majority of this party wants to succeed. We want to thrive in that next election. There is a common thread in everyone here and that is, get ourselves prepared."

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