POLITICS

Manitoba Liberals plot ground rules for leadership race, one candidate quits

10/30/2012 05:51 EDT | Updated 12/30/2012 05:12 EST
WINNIPEG - Manitoba Liberals have set down some of the rules for their leadership race, just as one of the potential candidates has bowed out.

The party has decided to wait until April 19 to open nominations and plans to elect a new leader exactly six months later in Winnipeg.

The party's executive director, Dennis Trochim, said the April start date was chosen so as not to overlap with the federal Liberal leadership race, which winds up five days earlier.

"We don't want federal Liberals and provincial Liberals to be working at odds with one another," Trochim said Tuesday.

The Liberals are also looking at setting a low entry fee — somewhere between $1,000 and $5,000 — to encourage a race. The party wants to avoid having a one-horse contest as the Progressive Conservatives did earlier this year when Brian Pallister won the Tory leadership unopposed and without having to debate any other candidates.

"I don't believe that serves democracy very well. I think political parties have a responsibility to have a dialogue with Manitobans," Trochim said.

The decision came just as Ajay Chopra decided he will not run for leader. Chopra, a 36-year-old business consultant who once served as an adviser to federal Liberal cabinet minister Martin Cauchon, had said in the summer he was leaning heavily toward running.

On Tuesday, he released a short statement in which he said he was bowing out for "personal and professional" reasons. He did not go into detail.

"I extend my heartfelt thanks to everyone who offered me their support and good wishes," Chopra wrote.

The only committed leadership candidate so far is Robert Young, 52, a business consultant and Christian fiction writer who already has a leadership website up. Shane Geschiere, a 32-year-old paramedic who dropped out of the federal Liberal leadership race, has said he is "leaning very much" toward a provincial run but has not made it official.

The Liberals are trying to find a replacement for Jon Gerrard, who announced his resignation in the wake of a disastrous election last year that saw the Liberals garner only one legislature seat and 7.5 per cent of the popular vote — down from two seats and 12 per cent of the vote in 2007.

The low voter support meant the Liberals for the first time did not qualify for a 50 per cent reimbursement of campaign expenses. The party is still working to pay off its $125,000 campaign debt — something Trochim said should be accomplished by the end of this year.

With the party's finances in rough shape, there may not be much the party can offer to a new leader. Gerrard has promised to stay on in the Liberals' lone legislature seat, so a new leader will not have a legislature member's salary — at least not immediately.

The party is hoping to drum up enough cash through fundraising dinners to pay the new leader some sort of income.

"There is every plan that we will create a fund for the leader and his expenses, and we would very much like to offer an honorarium. But what that entails, it's far too early to say," Trochim said.

The Liberals have appointed Charles Huband, a retired judge who led the party in the mid-1970's, to develop more ground rules for next year's leadership race, including the exact entry fee and what qualifications leadership candidates will have to have.