Gerrard must make way for Lamont
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.