WINNIPEG - Some analysts — and at least one candidate — are talking openly about the possibility that the Manitoba Liberals may be wiped out even as leader Jon Gerrard talks about a red surge in next week's provincial election.
"There is that concern, yes," Harry Wolbert, the party's candidate in the St. Vital constituency in south Winnipeg, said Tuesday. "I, for one, am quite concerned and have been doing my best to rally the troops."
Wolbert has started making his case on Twitter in recent days, telling fellow Liberals "our future as a political party is at stake." He points out there is still a week to turn things around and he's hoping supporters will make sure to cast ballots next Tuesday.
The Liberals have long struggled to be noticed in Manitoba and have seen their already-low numbers sink.
Their share of popular support has slipped slightly in each of the last three elections under Gerrard, who held the party's lone seat when the election was called. In 2007, the Liberals garnered 12 per cent of the vote and two of the legislature's 57 seats.
In a recent opinion poll by Environics Research Group, 10 per cent of decided voters said they planned to vote Liberal.
Wolbert said some of the blame rests with Gerrard..
"I guess ultimate responsibility rests with the leader. There are some within the party, within the public, who don't like the leader," he said.
"That's part of it, but I think there's more to it than that. We've been going through a rebuilding process (and) things take time."
Wolbert did not take a position on Gerrard's future as leader, but said some want him gone.
"The writing may be on the wall. That's for Jon to decide and ... we have to have a leadership review after every election, so Jon and the members will decide at that time."
Paul Thomas, a veteran political science professor at the University of Manitoba, suggested the Liberals and Gerrard are in trouble.
"To get close to single digits (in opinion polls) puts the party in jeopardy in terms of not having a seat in the legislature," Thomas said.
"I think he's being really tested this time in terms of holding his own riding."
But Gerrard dismisses the gloomy outlook. He has talked about possibly holding the balance of power with a handful of seats in a minority government.
"We don't believe the polls and certainly what we've been getting at the door ... is actually a very positive response. And our own internal polling suggests we are doing far better than some of the other polls are suggesting," he said.
"The real poll is on election day and that's the one we're building towards."
Gerrard, a trained pediatrician who turns 65 next month, has led the provincial Liberals since 1998. Prior to that, he served one term in the federal Liberal government under Jean Chretien between 1993 and 1997, when he lost a bid for re-election.
In the 13 years Gerrard has led the Liberals, they've never drawn much more than about 13 per cent of the popular vote.
The party actually won two seats in the last election, but Gerrard's longtime partner in the legislature, Kevin Lamoureux, stepped down last year to run federally. He is now the MP for Winnipeg North and his provincial seat of Inkster, vacant since he left, is up for grabs.
In the last decade or so, the Liberals have enjoyed brief bursts of popularity in Manitoba polls, but never when it counts at election time.
The closest they have come in the last few decades is when Sharon Carstairs formed the official Opposition in 1988. That lasted for two years until the next election.