Liberal candidates in Manitoba's upcoming provincial election gathered at a Winnipeg Holiday Inn for the party's annual general meeting Saturday. While many were reflecting on a recent controversy in their ranks involving ex-candidate Jamie Hall, they were also looking forward to the campaign.
"This is 40-something days before an election, everyone's just wanting to hit the ground now," said Manitoba Liberal leader, Rana Bokhari.
Bokhari said the party has "retraced steps" since cutting ties with Hall, who stepped down as the party's candidate in Southdale amid controversy surrounding derogatory social media comments.
Bokhari characterized the episode as a "misstep" but not an unusual one.
"This is 21st century politics," Bokhari said. "We saw 23 people in the [recent] federal election across all parties … removed after vigorous checks."
She added the Manitoba Liberal Party needs better search tools to examine posts on social media that have since been deleted.
The controversy about Hall was not the only issue discussed at the AGM.
Bokhari described the meeting's theme as "door knocking," saying the focus is on the grassroots campaign the Liberals have carried out leading up to the election.
"We're doing what we're doing," she said. "That strategy is to put forward meaningful policies that will make a difference in the everyday lives of Manitobans."
She added the party will steer clear of attacks on other parties, even in the face of attacks on her own party.
"Hey, you know, it's flattering," she said of attacks from her political rivals. "When you're trying to change the establishment, these are the things that happen."
Bokhari also spoke about NDP candidate Wab Kinew and said the NDP should take responsibility for what Kinew, a songwriter, has said in past lyrics about women — something that came into question amid the Hall controversy.
Robert Falcon Ouellette, the Liberal candidate in Winnipeg Centre, seconded Bokhari's sentiment.
"If you are going to occupy a leadership position, you have to look at what you said in the past and how it's going to affect your ability to bring about those changes," he said.
Ouellette said Hall's candidacy was oversight and took place amid many preparations leading up to the April 19 election.
"As we get closer to the election and things start to move a little bit forward sometimes ... things do slip through the cracks," he said.
Support for Bokhari
But, he said, Bokhari demonstrated "great leadership" when faced with the situation.
"She took a position that was very strong, saying, 'These are our values and those [displayed by Hall] do not correspond to our values,'" he said.
While the controversy was a lesson for the party, Ouellette said he does not believe that it got much attention beyond Manitoba.
"I think we're more occupied, for instance, looking at carbon pricing [and] the environment. We're looking at infrastructure spending, the economy. We're trying to get people into jobs," he said of the new Liberal government in Ottawa.
Terry Duguid, MP for Winnipeg South, also applauded Bokhari for how she handled the Hall controversy.
"These things happen," he said. "The important thing was that she did dismiss the candidate and moved on and that was the right thing to do."
Calling the upcoming provincial election "competitive," Duguid said success will come down to making a genuine connection with voters.
"I don't think there's any magic to good politics," he said. "You need a good message, you need good policies. But at the end of the day it's about getting in front of voters. It's about knocking on doors, it's about identifying your support and it's about getting that support out on election day."