Apparently the Manitoba Liberal Party ain’t dead just yet.
As of yesterday, the race to replace outgoing Liberal Party leader Jon Gerrard — who also happens to be the sole sitting MLA for the Liberals in the Manitoba legislature — grew to three candidates.
Bob Axworthy, brother of former federal minister Lloyd Axworthy under Jean Chrétien’s government, joined fellow leadership hopefuls Rana Bokhari and Dougald Lamont.
As the Winnipeg Free Press reported on its website, the 59-year-old Axworthy, who ran in the 2012 byelection in Fort Whyte and finished second to Tory Opposition leader Brian Pallister, said he believes his experience makes him the best choice to lead the party.
“I’m pretty confident where I’m going,” he said. “If you’re looking for a choice in this province — we know people are disaffected with the current government — we can make the changes.”
Indeed, the fortunes of the NDP are looking grim after this summer’s protracted battle in the legislature with the much-energized Progressive Conservative Party. Of course, Premier Greg Selinger did himself no favours by fibbing in the last provincial election that he had no intention of increasing the PST — and the Tories have rightfully pounced on it to their own benefit.
Of course, not all disenfranchised voters in fortress Winnipeg who previously parked their vote with the NDP will turn their sights to the Tories as their party of choice, even with that party’s victorious summer filibuster, which means the Manitoba Liberals begin to look more appealing.
That fact is shown by a recent Probe Research poll that suggested 17 per cent of surveyed Manitobans would vote Liberal in the next election — a significant jump in popular support from 2011’s dismal 7.5 per cent.
While that may not yet show a Liberal surge similar to the one enjoyed by former Manitoba Liberal leader Sharon Carstairs in 1988, when the party won 20 seats, it does hint at a growing dissatisfaction with the NDP.
In fact, if the Liberals hope to siphon NDP voters in the next election, now is the perfect time for a leadership race. Leadership races offer a chance for a party to energize the body politic, generate new ideas and receive wide media exposure that keeps the party in the public eye. And for the floundering Liberals, every bit of exposure they can get will be necessary to come back from the brink of extinction.
The fact that there are now three people vying for the chance to lead the Liberals in this province certainly gives credence to the notion that the NDP is losing support. The opposition parties — PCs and Liberals alike — and their supporters smell blood in the water.
And if a re-energized Liberal Party can shake things up a bit over the coming year — no offence meant to Axworthy, but we think the younger Lamont and fresh-faced Bokhari would likely do that more effectively — the NDP will be on its way out, with the Tories taking power.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 21, 2013