WINNIPEG – Manitoba’s rookie Liberal leader has refused so far to explain how she plans to pay for tens of millions of dollars in promises she is making in advance of next April’s provincial election.
In a year-end interview, Rana Bokhari said her financial plan will be revealed later, but bristled at the suggestion time is running short.
“I’m very aware of the time. I’m very aware of the time. I’m very aware of the time. I’m very aware of the time, thanks,” she said, cutting off a question.
“You want to shove me into a box that you know, and I’m telling you, looking you dead in the eye, that my process is different. You can accept that or you can reject that, by all means.”
Bokhari said her party has crunched the numbers, but feels no need to reveal them now.
“When the time is appropriate — not because you want it but because it’s our time as a party, as a team … we will put it out.”
Bokhari, a former lawyer, took over the Liberals in 2013, two years after an election that saw them reduced to one seat in the legislature and 7.5 per cent of the popular vote.
She has worked to rebuild the party’s finances and profile. Thanks in part to the NDP government’s plunge in popularity following a sales tax hike in 2013, the Liberals have jumped in opinion polls to more than 20 per cent.
Bokhari has had to overcome internal bitterness among some Liberals who opposed her leadership bid and accusations from critics that as a political neophyte, she struggles with policy and communication.
Bokhari has made a series of promises in recent months that have come with pricetags but with no indication as to how a Liberal government would pay for them, including:
— A $25 million annual sales tax rebate for municipalities
— $10 million a year to convert student loans to grants.
— Up to $5 million a year for increased in vitro fertilization funding.
— A phased-in elimination of the payroll tax, which brings in $350 million annually.
Bokhari hinted the plan contains some form of spending efficiency within existing programs.
“What our approach is — and I think, let’s like try to kind of wrap our minds around this — is there’s smart spending and there’s complete and utter mismanagement, OK? So our approach is trying to spend smarter, proactively, wiser for the future, for long-term goals and long-term positive outcomes rather than walking in, slashing everything and ‘OK, well, now we’re going to flip this for this and this for this,'” she said.
“Does that make sense?”
Curtis Brown, a pollster at Probe Research, said the Liberals are benefiting from voter anger at the NDP and the rise of the federal Liberals. Whether the Liberal support will last until the April 19 election remains to be seen.
“A lot of those people are people who would have voted for the NDP in the past and are looking for a home right now.”