Ajay Chopra ran in the 1999 provincial election at the age of 23 before leaving for work on Parliament Hill. But he's moving back to Winnipeg and is "strongly leaning" toward a leadership bid.
"I believe firmly that there is a leadership vacuum in Manitoba currently, and I think there's a real opportunity for the Liberals to come right down the middle," Chopra said Monday.
"Should I decide to run for Liberal leader, I will offer a third way and I will offer Manitobans a bold vision."
Chopra, 36, has long Liberal ties. His father Al did a lot of backroom work for the party. Chopra decided to enter the fray as a young adult and ran in 1999 in Point Douglas — a low-income NDP stronghold in Winnipeg's core. He finished second with 21 per cent of the vote.
After the election, he became a federal Liberal staffer and served as a special adviser for western and northern Canada to Martin Cauchon, who was minister of justice and national revenue at the time.
"I got to oversee some pretty neat legislation, like same-sex marriage and some of the most progressive legislation the Liberals put forward, such as decriminalization of marijuana."
Chopra left government work to become the media adviser to Phil Fontaine when Fontaine was head of the Assembly of First Nations. During that time, the assembly pushed for the Kelowna Accord on aboriginal rights and the government apology for abuse of former students at residential schools.
Chopra also served as the prairie co-ordinator for Bob Rae's 2006 bid for the federal Liberal leadership
More recently, he has worked with the lobbyist organization The Capital Hill Group, based in Ottawa.
If Chopra were to win a leadership vote and take over the helm, he would have to guide a party that is struggling to avoid extinction. The Liberals garnered only one seat and 7.5 per cent of the popular vote in last fall's election — down from two seats and 12 per cent of the vote in 2007.
They are still trying to pay off debt from the election campaign and have moved into a cramped office in the legislature. The party's lone legislature member, Jon Gerrard, announced last November he would step down as soon as a new leader is chosen.
The Liberals have slated their leadership convention for the fall of 2013. Nominations have not officially opened, but one candidate has already committed to running. Robert Young, a 52-year-old business consultant and Christian fiction writer, already has a leadership website up and running.
Chopra describes himself as a centrist.
"I'm a pro-business Liberal with a social conscience," he said.
"I believe very strongly in the role of government in a democracy, but in the same frame, I believe that market forces need to be understood and heard as well."
While Chopra is talking quite openly about the Liberal leadership — he's been asking his friends on Facebook what they think of his potential bid — he will not make a formal decision until the end of the summer, he said.