Former Manitoba Liberal president turns Progressive Conservative

Manitoba Legislative Building
A former Manitoba Liberal Party president hopes to run for the Progressive Conservatives in the next provincial election. Jeremy Desrochers / Global News

WINNIPEG – A former president of the Manitoba Liberal Party has jumped ship to the Progressive Conservatives and hopes to run under the Tory banner for the Liberals’ only legislature seat.

Robert Young said he quit as Liberal president because he was frustrated at a lack of progress the party was making in rebuilding.

“My goal was and always has been to defeat the NDP. The Liberals, at this time, I don’t think are ready to do that,” Young said Tuesday.

“It was a lack of policy coming out. When you’re trying to get people to become involved in an organization or a cause, you have to give them something to believe in and it was slow in coming.”

Young said he has tremendous respect for Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari, but the party’s backroom officials have been at odds over how to put together policies and build the party organization.

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He said he has taken out a Progressive Conservative membership and is eyeing the party nomination in River Heights — the Winnipeg seat currently held by the Liberals’ lone legislature member, Jon Gerrard.

Young said it’s nothing personal against Gerrard — River Heights is simply where Young lives.

Tory president Lyle Bauer said the party “absolutely” welcomes Young, and his Liberal past does not prevent him from running for the River Heights nomination along with other candidates.

A nomination meeting has not yet been called, and party members will have the final say on who represents them, Bauer said.

A Liberal spokesman said Young’s decision to leave was disappointing.

“Back at the beginning of this year, he understood some of the issues we were facing, both in terms of the structure we had on the board, with some dysfunctionalism and some of the stuff we were facing financially,” said Jeff Kovalik-Plouffe, the Liberals’ executive director.

“We are working on it, and I feel pretty comfortable with where we are.”

Young served as president for six months. Before that, he was the party’s vice-president.

The Liberals have been in the political wilderness since the 1990s. They saw their support drop to its lowest point in the 2011 election when they were reduced to just one seat and captured only 7.5 per cent of the vote.

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The results prompted Jon Gerrard to resign as leader, leading to a contentious three-way leadership race a year ago that saw Bokhari, a newcomer to the party, emerge victorious.

Her victory was not welcomed by some long-time party members. The Liberals tried to put an end to the internal bickering last spring by changing the board of directors to include more Bokhari loyalists.

Since her election as leader, Bokhari has been largely out of the media spotlight. Opinion polls shortly after her win suggested Liberal support had soared above 20 per cent, but more recent polls suggest that number has dropped.

Kovalik-Plouffe said the party has been focusing on rebuilding its finances, which were almost wiped out by the 2011 election campaign. He also said Bokhari has been busy.

“She’s been out at community events almost every single day. In terms of some of the press stuff, we haven’t been holding a massive amount of press conferences.”

The Liberals are starting to put together policies for the next election, expected in 2016, he added. The party is also trying to fill its war chest through events such as a fundraising dinner in November featuring Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne.

“When Rana came in last October … this was not a fully functioning party and we had to make a lot of changes. And some of those changes took a little longer than we had hoped, but I feel we are on the right track.”

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