Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition May 3, 2014
While riding high on a surge of support, it appears the Manitoba Liberal Party is bent on kneecapping itself ahead of seeing the fruits of their building success.
To be perfectly clear — and in the interest of disclosure — I have been a member of the Manitoba Liberal Party in the past, and even ran as a candidate for them in the 2011 provincial election. But as of the end of 2013, I allowed my membership to lapse.
It has taken some time for the Liberal brand to be anything close to viable again in this province, despite some very concerted efforts otherwise.
Aside from smart, strong and pragmatic leadership from former leader Jon Gerrard, the party has really struggled at every level.
Gerrard as leader, although held in tremendously high regard amongst his peers, struggled to bring the party back to its glory days under former leader and Liberal senator Sharon Carstairs.
The brand, despite a heroic and yeoman’s amount of work under Gerrard, was awash in a sea of insignificance in this province. Too close in ideals to either of the two big dogs in Manitoba and lost in the vote blocking schemes that held the dreaded Tories from power and brought the NDP to the Promised Land, the Liberals were destined to drift into mediocrity.
The brand, for lack of a better word, had died.
Fast-forward half an election cycle and a leadership campaign, and the Liberals seemed destined to be heading back from the brink to a place that Manitobans cared about once again.
New leadership came in under Winnipeg lawyer Rana Bokhari and a new executive director took the helm after the former director ran into some difficulties while at his post.
So it appeared that the instabilities that had plagued the brand had been exorcised, which is why last week’s news of internal squabbles and party frustrations have handicapped Liberals and frustrated many mere days before a general meeting that was supposed to signal rebirth.
The Liberals head to their annual general meeting this weekend — a time that is supposed to lead to fresh ideas and opportunities.
At the very least, these kinds of events should breed excitement for a party brand, much like the last federal Liberal convention in Justin Trudeau’s backyard of Montreal.
Instead, the Manitoba Liberals sputter towards this weekend’s meetings with a clear division in their ranks and more infighting and backroom struggles than an episode of “House of Cards.” Dissension within the party, if allowed to boil to the surface will challenge Bokhari, her ideals, her team and the future of the party that just elected her as leader.
Bokhari appears good for the party. She takes it in a new direction, refreshes possibilities and has a vision for what the Liberals need to do to leave the woods and become relevant again — and that relevance at the very least has Manitobans listening. Last month’s polling had the Liberals well into the double-digit support category for the first time in more than a decade, and it appeared that if that support remained it would prove problematic for the NDP and phenomenal for the Tories, should history hold true.
Instead it appears a group of bitter former rivals are taking one more swipe at the changes following their own connections within the party being called into question.
The basis of the argument is that the new Liberal team is attempting to centralize the management of the party and take it away from the grassroots level.
Secondly, some within the rank and file of the party believed that several constitutional amendments being proposed — including not being able to go public to speak out against the leadership — were, frankly, unconstitutional.
As much as being a member of a party is a paid choice, it is also a privilege that some do not take lightly.
It does not preclude members from questioning decisions, but it does at the very least signify you believe in the product that is being put out there for consumption day in and day out.
Plenty of questions still remain as to whether this weekend will actually see a challenge to the leadership of the party.
If it does, then some serious issues exist within the party and the numbers will continue to dwindle as a result of this infighting.
If not, then it may finally show that the old guard has been shaken and the changes that have gripped the federal ranks of the Liberal party have trickled down to the local establishment.
For Manitoba Liberals, that would be welcome news for a party that finally believed it could make the headlines once again in this province.