Manitoba’s new Liberal leader has her work cut out for her.
The party has struggled in the province in recent years, with former party leader Jon Gerrard being the only Liberal to secure a seat in Manitoba in the last election.
Now, 36-year-old lawyer and newly minted Manitoba Liberal leader Rana Bokhari is hoping to change that.
Bokhari is a virtual unknown in Manitoba’s political scene, but she believes she is up to the task of reviving and rebuilding the party’s membership base in the province.
“I’m not walking in with anything other than my energy, my integrity and my desire to rebuild this party,” she said on Monday after being elected over the weekend.
Bokhari is a first generation Canadian whose family immigrated from Pakistan. She grew up on a chicken farm in Anola, going on to complete three degrees at the University of Manitoba.
Since then she’s been practising law in Winnipeg and living in the Fort Richmond riding. The closest thing she has come to a political career before this was as president of Manitoba Law Students’ Association.
Former leader Gerrard said Bokhari’s relative newness to the scene could revive tired voters.
“I think that sometimes when you have a new face like that there’s a little getting used to, but there’s also a lot of excitement,” said Gerrard.
Her first order of business as leader of the party will be to secure a seat in the legislature.
After that, her two priorities will be to raise money and attract new members.
Political analyst Paul Thomas said Bokhari has tremendous work to build a brand for herself and her party.
“Across much of the province, they don’t have much of a presence, so it’s really building from the ground up,” he said.
Thomas said making a stand on wedge issues could help.
The province’s Conservatives want to repeal a controversial provincial sales tax hike pushed through by the NDP.
But Bokhari wasn’t sure if she would toe that line, saying it would be irresponsible to decide on the issue not knowing what the economic climate would be when the next election happens two years from now.
“If it’s economically in the best interest of myself, my friends and my Manitobans, absolutely. If not, then no,” she said.
What she does know, she said, is her party won’t be merging with any others in order to gain support.
For now, she’ll have to work on winning a seat. She said she plans to run in Winnipeg.