POLITICS
10/05/2011 01:00 EDT | Updated 12/04/2011 05:12 EST

Manitoba Election: Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard A Caucus Of One After Party Collapses

CP

WINNIPEG - The doctor is in, but his party remains flat on its back.

Jon Gerrard, a 63-year-old former pediatrician, retained his seat in the tony River Heights section of Winnipeg, but he is a party of one.

The Liberals failed to win a second seat for the first time in the last three elections and their popular support continues to plummet, from 13 per cent a decade ago to 7.5 per cent in Tuesday's election.

But the man who has been at the party helm for 12 years refused to talk about his future as leader.

"I'm certainly going to be looking at the question of leadership in the days ahead, but I'm not going to deal with it tonight," he said at a community club in his riding, where a handful of supporters cheered his win.

Party rules make a leadership review mandatory after an election loss, although that doesn't automatically mean a leadership convention.

Gerrard did promise to serve out his term as the member for River Heights.

"I was certainly hoping for more than one seat, so the victory in a sense is a bit bittersweet. But I'm dedicated to the cause of the people of River Heights, and I'm dedicated to the Liberal cause."

It was a difficult campaign for Gerrard. He battled not only his political opponents but party dissenters as well.

One week before the election, one Liberal candidate said he was worried the party might not win any seats and placed part of the blame on Gerrard.

Days later, two former Liberal members of Parliament wrote letters of support for New Democrats in two constituencies.

Problems sprouted up on social media.

Someone using a photo of Liberal candidate Paul Hesse opened a Twitter account and started posting messages urging Gerrard to step down. Hesse immediately denounced the move and said he had not authorized it.

It was a byproduct of collective frustration.

In the years Gerrard has led them, the Liberals have never drawn much more than about 13 per cent of the popular vote — though the Liberals have tripled their membership to around 7,000 since the last election and restocked the campaign war chest.

He entered the election without a wingman.

His partner in the legislature, Kevin Lamoureux, gave up his seat to run federally and is now the Liberal MP for Winnipeg North.

His party's track record is bleak.

There were no Liberals at all in the Manitoba legislature from 1981 to 1986.

In the last decade or so, they enjoyed brief bursts of popularity in the polls, but never when it counted at election time.

The closest the Liberals came in the last few decades was in 1988, when Sharon Carstairs formed the official Opposition. That lasted for two years until the next election.

Gerrard has been a politician almost as long as he was a practising physician.

He has spent most of the last 20 years as an elected member of either the House of Commons or the Manitoba legislature.

He said health care reform drew him to politics and fighting for the Liberal voice kept him around.

But he hasn't had a sniff of power since most western Liberals fell over the gun registry in 1997. That's when he lost his one-term federal seat of Portage-Interlake, and moved to the provincial scene.

He said his party, despite their meagre support, has a role to play.

"We're fiscally responsible. Instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars, we're providing a vision of rapid transit for all of Manitoba," he said outside the polling station before he voted Tuesday.

"We're providing a very positive approach to early childhood education and post-secondary education.

"We're quite different than the other parties."