Is Rana Bokhari doing enough for the Liberals?

Manitoba Liberal leader Rana Bokhari has come under fire for not doing enough to capitalize on the governing NDP’s turmoil. An editorial in the Winnipeg Free Press called her performance “underwhelming” (twice, to make it very clear) and another column questions whether she has the “determination and intellect” to turn the party into a viable option for voters. She has also taken some heat on social media for her lackluster performance.

Much of the criticism has to do with not being visible enough. PC leader Brian Pallister has been ever-present throughout the drama on Broadway. How effective he has been I’m not sure, but he’s there on TV, awkwardly looking down at the camera because reporters are short and Brian’s so bloody tall, taking his digs at the comically dysfunctional government.

If Rana hasn’t been as visible, I’m not sure if that’s entirely her fault or the media’s. Certainly not having a seat in the legislature doesn’t help, nor does a lack of money. Likely she has no choice but to spend time grinding away at dull party nuts and bolts that the Big Two party leaders don’t have to concern themselves with.

A lack of visibility is not the only knock against her. Another has to do with a lack of substantive policy, resulting from various vague commitments about future plans, and statements like “I want Manitoba to be the hub of something“. I share some of those criticisms, but I’ll summarize what Rana told me: be patient.

I spoke with Bokhari briefly not long ago, and she explained to me that they have a lot of work to do in terms of organizing the party, nominating candidates, and getting all the machinery in place behind the scenes. While they’re busy with all that, it doesn’t hurt to keep a low profile and let the government self-destruct. In other words it may not be as critical for her to be front and center right now as some people think. She assured me, however, that policy announcements would start coming soon.

Her statement to me was completely unprompted — I just asked her if she wanted my shopping cart. (Just kidding .. I approached her to say ‘hi’ at an event). I suspect she’s been getting those questions a lot lately and anticipated the same from me.

To come to Rana’s defense a little bit: the Manitoba Liberal Party is flat broke and badly damaged, and I can only imagine that rebuilding a party under these conditions is a crazy amount of work. But true to her word, the party has begun to release some concrete policy ideas, a few of the more interesting ones being:

  • repealing the payroll tax
  • exempting first time home buyers from the Land Transfer Tax
  • investing $20 million to increase the number of psychologists in Manitoba
  • creating a new outlet from Lake Manitoba to control water levels

But even this roll-out of proposals has been very low profile. I’ve been traveling a bit and maybe missed some chatter in the Winnipeg media or twitter, but I get the impression that nobody knows about this. I only found out about it because I’m friends with a “highly recognizable insider with the Liberal party” on Facebook. All of these ideas will need to re-announced in a splashier fashion at some point in the future for people to take note of them.

I wrote a blog post a year ago describing the potential I saw with the new Liberal leader. Some of it has to do with demographics, but some also with the opportunity to present a fresh alternative to the old bickering parties. There is no question that Rana must make a bigger impression than she has so far if she wants to realize that potential, but it’s too soon to pull out the knives.

We have seen in a recent election that it doesn’t take a lot of time for a new candidate to gain popular support. The NDP is crippled and the PCs are unlikely to broaden their appeal much in the next year. I have a feeling that as the election draws nearer people will be clamouring for a new face with some new ideas and a new approach to politics. There is still plenty of time for Rana Bokhari to get there.

feature image source: www.manitobaliberals.ca
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