WINNIPEG — Manitoba’s Liberal party is searching for a new leader — likely one from outside the caucus — following the surprise announcement by Rana Bokhari that she is stepping down.
Bokhari announced her plan to resign in a written statement Saturday evening, days after telling reporters she was intending to stay on and possibly run in a byelection to gain a legislature seat.
“It was the leader’s decision to make and we, as a team, we’re going to be fully supporting her,” Cindy Lamoureux, one of three Liberal candidates who won seats in the April 19 election, said Monday.
Bokhari has been under pressure to step down after leading a campaign that featured several gaffes and missteps. The Liberals had only one seat in the legislature prior to the election, but had high hopes based on strong polling numbers and the popularity of the federal Liberals.
A handful of candidates were disqualified by Elections Manitoba for improper paperwork. The Liberal platform failed to include the cost of party promises in its budget plans, and some Liberal policies, such as creating a government-run grocery superstore in downtown Winnipeg, left some observers scratching their heads.
“Some of their policy pledges were off the mark,” said Karine Levasseur, who teaches political studies at the University of Manitoba.
Bokhari, a former lawyer who has never held public office, failed to gain a legislature seat and finished third in the Fort Rouge constituency.
Bokhari’s staff declined an interview request Monday. She told radio station CJOB that she announced her resignation Saturday evening because someone had leaked word that her resignation was imminent.
The announcement came nine hours after The Canadian Press asked Bokhari’s communications director, Mike Brown, about rumours that Bokhari was about to resign. Brown replied Saturday morning that there was “no truth” to the rumours.
Bokhari is staying on as interim leader until a replacement is chosen. The party’s council will meet in the coming weeks to plan a timeline.
The three Liberals who now hold legislature seats — Lamoureux, former leader Jon Gerrard and Judy Klassen — all ruled out a run for the leadership Monday. That means the party, which has already struggled financially to pay Bokhari a salary as leader, may have to find money to pay a replacement as well.
Levasseur said the Liberals will have to work hard to raise money and hire experienced staff to help whoever succeeds Bokhari.
“The Liberal party as a whole really needs to take a good hard look at what kind of supports it is providing to its leader so that he or she can be better prepared to work with the media and articulate policy,” she said.
“I don’t think all hope is lost for the Liberal party, but it will certainly be a tough four years (until the next election).”