Ger­rard must make way for La­mont

Winnipeg Free Press - - YOUR SAY -

T is pretty clear that newly minted Lib­eral Leader Dougald La­mont’s first task is to find a way into the Man­i­toba Leg­is­la­ture. And the sooner, the bet­ter.

That will not be an easy task. There are no seats open right now await­ing a by­elec­tion writ. And it’s not im­me­di­ately clear there will be any open­ings in the near fu­ture. La­mont could wait un­til 2020 and run in the next pro­vin­cial elec­tion, but that would mean an­other 30 months of try­ing to stay rel­e­vant with­out the ben­e­fit of the ex­po­sure and re­sources avail­able within the leg­is­la­ture.

Some within the Lib­eral party have won­dered aloud about the pos­si­bil­ity of for­mer leader Jon Ger­rard step­ping down from his River Heights seat to make way for Mr. La­mont. The ar­gu­ments for and against that strat­egy are both strong.

One side sees Mr. Ger­rard’s res­ig­na­tion as the best and per­haps safest way to get Mr. La­mont into the leg­is­la­ture. River Heights is about as safe a Lib­eral seat in Man­i­toba as you can find. The Grits are also surg­ing in pub­lic sup­port, ac­cord­ing to the re­sults of a re­cent Free Press-Probe Re­search poll. The time cer­tainly seems right to

Ihave a for­mer leader who is on the down­side of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer step aside and sup­port the new leader in his bid to make the Lib­er­als a le­git­i­mate op­tion for Man­i­toba vot­ers.

Those who do not sup­port that view have an equally com­pelling ar­gu­ment.

Mr. Ger­rard’s sup­port­ers, and oth­ers, ar­gue that the Lib­er­als need to grow be­yond their cur­rent three-seat cau­cus to achieve party sta­tus and reap the in­creased fi­nan­cial and staffing sup­port that comes with it. In this ar­gu­ment, Mr. La­mont has as good a chance to win an­other seat that may come open for a by­elec­tion as he does in River Heights. Why put an ex­ist­ing Grit seat up for grabs, Mr. Ger­rard’s sup­port­ers will say, when you could keep that bird in the hand and per­haps flush an­other from the bush with a by­elec­tion win in an­other rid­ing?

The tip­ping point in this de­bate may come from a closer ex­am­i­na­tion of Mr. Ger­rard’s legacy.

Mr. Ger­rard has cer­tainly been a stoic stew­ard of the party, hold­ing down what was of­ten the only Lib­eral seat in the leg­is­la­ture during his years as leader. Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, his in­abil­ity to make an elec­toral break­through made step­ping down a po­lit­i­cal ne­ces­sity. Un­for­tu­nately, his res­ig­na­tion in 2013 was too long in com­ing and even after step­ping down, he did not get fully be­hind his suc­ces­sor, Rana Bokhari.

A po­lit­i­cal neo­phyte with no seat, Ms. Bokhari strug­gled to gar­ner the at­ten­tion of Man­i­to­bans. Mean­while, Mr. Ger­rard, who had access to the stage that is the leg­is­la­ture, con­tin­ued to largely do the work of leader. He did not di­rectly un­der­mine Ms. Bokhari, but there were ques­tions about how much sup­port he was pro­vid­ing to her. His de­ci­sion to re-en­ter the most re­cent lead­er­ship cam­paign — in which he lost on the first bal­lot — is proof that Mr. Ger­rard has never re­ally stopped think­ing of himself as leader.

The Lib­er­als need to avoid fall­ing into the same trap with Mr. La­mont. The party squan­dered a golden op­por­tu­nity to make huge gains in the

2016 elec­tion. The Grits need to get their new leader elected as soon as pos­si­ble and al­low him to build a po­lit­i­cal pro­file in ad­vance of the 2020 elec­tion.

The only way they can do that with any cer­tainty is to have Mr. Ger­rard not only step down, but work tire­lessly to get Mr. La­mont elected.

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