Former Liberal leader felt abandoned by party establishment

Rana Bokhari says her election fight wasn't just against the other political parties, it was within her own party as well.

Rana Bokhari says election fight was inside party and out

Liberal leader Rana Bokhari says a rocky start with the party executive didn't help campaign. (CBC News)

Rana Bokhari says her election fight wasn't just against the other political parties, it was within her own party as well.

The Liberals started the race with a new leader in Bokhari, some decent poll numbers and voters eager to dump the unpopular incumbent NDP government. 

But the Liberal campaign last spring had its fair share of blunders, gaffes and missed chances. Candidates dropped out for a variety of reasons and Bokhari herself struggled to keep the team on message.

Bokhari says she spent the previous two years trying to rebuild a party that had one seat in the Legislature (Jon Gerrard, MLA for River Heights) and little in the bank to wage proper campaigns.

Rana Bokhari says former Liberal party stars stayed home during election. (Sean Kavanagh)
As a rookie leader and new to politics, Bokhari says it was an uphill battle. She says she was going it alone for much of the early days.

"I was by myself for so long building this. Like, it wasn't easy. There was no help," Bokhari said. "There was nobody there to help us along the way, to build a team, to do this, to do that."

Bokhari says a small team of three or four people tried to build a new modern political party that could challenge the NDP and the PCs, but in her words, "balls got dropped." She says as leader the responsibility ultimately rests with her, but she got little support along the way.

It started with cleaning house at the board level. Bokhari says a former iteration of the party's leadership stymied her at every step.

"I remember the first day I walked into the building. Two or three days later they had me locked out of the building. They were passing motions to not pay the leader … you can't have an office. It was just nuts," Bokhari said.

Bokhari says things improved as the members of the party's board changed and she gathered a small team to move toward the election. She mentions people such as Winnipeg lawyer Corey Shefman who stepped up and helped.

She described the backroom of the Liberal party when she first arrived as "clique-y" and populated with "political geniuses that really haven't accomplished anything in 15 or 20 years."

Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard admits the party had infighting that didn't help Bokhari. (CBC News )
River Heights MLA Jon Gerrard was the lone Liberal in the Manitoba Legislature before last spring's election. He admits Bokhari faced some resistance when she took over as leader.

"I think there continued to be … not a coming together of the party as we might have had, but Rana was very passionate. She worked very hard," Gerrard said. "There continued to be some festering things that were annoying, a nuisance problem."

Gerrard said even now it's hard to understand the reasons for some of the turmoil.

Old school Liberals stay home

Bokhari says overcoming resistance from some past party executives and insiders was coupled with little support from high-profile Liberals from other eras.

"I'm not a part of that establishment. I'm not one of them. I can't walk into a room today with Lloyd Axworthy, Sharon Carstairs or anyone else and pretend I'm anything to them. I'm not. I'm the write-off," Bokhari said, referring to former federal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy and provincial Liberal leader Sharon Carstairs.

She says support from some party stars of the past would have had a significant impact on fundraising, organizing and legitimizing the Liberals, but it didn't happen.

"Not a single thing," Bokhari said.

Carstairs, who led a distinguished career in the Canadian Senate and continues to work and volunteer vigourously in retirement in Ontario, bristles when she hears of Bokhari's disappointment. Carstairs says she felt she didn't want to impose herself on the new leader.
Former Liberal leader Sharon Carstairs says Bokhari should have called if she needed help. (CBC News )

"I never spoke to her in my life. I might have expected her to contact me. She never did," Carstairs said.

In the interview Carstairs expressed sympathy for Bokhari facing sexual harassment during the campaign (as Carstairs did during her political career) but says if Bokhari wanted assistance or advice all she needed do was call.

Former minister Lloyd Axworthy did not respond to a request for an interview.

Bokhari credits some for helping out

Bokhari says the only Liberals active in politics that offered at least moral support were from out of province. She says Etobikoke MP Kirsty Duncan and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne both called during the campaign.

"They reached out and even after I lost they reached out," Bokhari said.

Bokhari also credits federal Liberal minister Jim Carr and MLA Robert-Falcon Ouellette for helping during the campaign.

There are things Bokhari wants to say about her short career in politics, but adds, "I'm just not there yet." She chose not to name people in the party she had direct confrontations with, figuring that since she has left it's up to the party to figure out.

Bokhari is pleased with the choice of Kewatinook MLA Judy Klassen as interim party leader, hopes the party gets behind her and is proud the Liberals tripled their seat count in the election.

The now-retired politician also understands she had a hand in the fortunes of the Liberals in the last election.

"I'll go to the grave saying this: the responsibility is always on the leader," Bokhari said.