09/22/2013 04:19 EDT | Updated 11/22/2013 05:12 EST

Manitoba Liberal Leadership Race: Party Raises $50,000 For Next Leader's Salary

PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE, Man. - Manitoba's troubled Liberal party has raised enough money to offer its next leader a $50,000-a-year salary. But it remains unclear whether the pay will be enough to make the new leader give up his or her current job.

Unlike outgoing leader Jon Gerrard, the person elected to lead the party Oct. 26 will not have a seat in the legislature — meaning no $89,000-a-year politician's salary from the public purse.

The party spent a year paying off its $125,000 debt from the 2011 provincial election campaign, and has since been raising money to rebuild. It now has enough to offer the new leader a $50,000 annual salary and $10,000 to cover travel and other expenses.

The money should be enough to ensure the leadership candidates can give up other work if they win, executive director George Baars-Wilhelm said in an interview.

"That is basically the agenda that we put forth to them," Baars-Wilhelm said.

"They're there then for technically about two years before an election would happen. So the goal is to lead them up to that point where they can win a seat."

But Rana Bokhari, a 35-year-old lawyer who recently cut her work to three hours a day and became the Liberals' first leadership candidate, had yet to decide whether she would quit her job altogether if she wins.

"I think I might. I haven't made a decision right now," Bokhari said after a leadership debate Saturday.

Dougald Lamont, a 44-year-old small business owner and vice-president in a technology firm, said he would be unlikely to continue those tasks if he wins the party's top spot.

"Probably not. Being leader is a full-time job."

Bob Axworthy, who announced his candidacy last week but had not yet completed the required paperwork, said he would continue some of his non-profit work, such as coaching an inner city women's basketball team.

"I still love to coach basketball and I would continue to do so," Axworthy said last week.

Whoever wins the leadership will have a tough road ahead. The Liberals were reduced to just one seat in the legislature and 7.5 per cent of the vote in 2011 — down from two seats and 12 per cent of the vote in the previous election.

The party went deep into debt, and saw its legislature office space and staff cut back. The party often fails to register on the public radar. At Saturday's leadership debate, only 45 people attended, leaving the auditorium largely empty.

But there are signs of improvement. Party memberships, which sell for $10 annually, have jumped by about 40 per cent in recent months to 1,200, Baars-Wilhelm said. That number is still rising as Bokhari, Lamont and Axworthy sell memberships to shore up support for the Oct. 26 leadership convention, where every member gets a vote.

The party is also planning to raise money with a speech by former prime minister Jean Chretien in November. Tickets to the Winnipeg dinner are $150. For another $100, Liberals can also get into a small reception with Chretien beforehand.

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