Bob Axworthy, former Manitoba Liberal leadership hopeful, 'disheartened' by campaign gaffes

The Manitoba Liberal Party's election campaign, which has been plagued by policy gaffes and candidates being dropped in recent weeks, is disappointing to Bob Axworthy, who once sought the party's leadership.

Liberal spokesperson accidentally sends out email warning against negative media coverage

Bob Axworthy on the Manitoba Liberals

7 years ago
Duration 0:50
The Manitoba Liberal Party's election campaign, which has been plagued by policy gaffes and candidates being dropped in recent weeks, is disappointing to Bob Axworthy, who once sought the party's leadership.

The Manitoba Liberal Party's election campaign, which has been plagued by policy gaffes and candidates being dropped in recent weeks, is disappointing to Bob Axworthy, who once sought the party's leadership.

Axworthy, the brother of former Winnipeg Liberal MP and cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy, lost to Rana Bokhari in the provincial party's leadership contest in 2013. Two weeks ago, Axworthy told CBC he was considering running as a candidate for the Manitoba Party, but in the end, did not.

Axworthy said he's been watching the party deal with policy gaffes and controversies surrounding some of its candidates in recent weeks.

Axworthy said while he does not entirely blame Bokhari for the poor campaign, he said she and the party have had three years to organize themselves in advance of the election campaign.

"It's very disheartening to see … to be frank, the disorganization and the policy gaffes and the rest that have appeared to plague the party in the last week," he said in an interview Tuesday.

"I'm very disheartened by it because I feel that certain policies of the Liberal Party that have been presented have merit, but others haven't."

Email warns Liberals not to criticize leader

The Liberals' communications director, Mike Brown, sent an email to local media on Tuesday afternoon that appears to have been meant to warn other Liberals against contributing to negative coverage of Bokhari.
Mike Brown, communications director with the Manitoba Liberal Party, sent an email to local media Tuesday that appears to have been intended to warn others in the party against contributing to negative coverage of Rana Bokhari. (CBC)

"CBC is actively seeking out negative comments about Rana. Please be aware of this and respond accordingly. It seems they have found someone to share their frustrations," Brown wrote.

"Please do not be part of that story. If we learned anything from 2011 it's that abandoning the leader leads to poor showings on election day for everyone."

Brown said in subsequent email that the first email was not sent out in error.

The Liberals have faced criticism over elements in their platform, including their fiscal plan, which calls for a $141-million surplus by 2021-22 but does not include the cost of their election promises.

Meanwhile, a Liberal promise to create a not-for-profit fresh food market in downtown Winnipeg raised the ire of Neechi Foods Co-op, an indigenous-run supermarket that already exists on Main Street.

Not a full slate

Axworthy said he and other local Liberals are also disappointed to see the party not running a full slate of 57 candidates leading up to the April 19 provincial election.

The Liberals currently have 51 candidates running across the province.

Last week, Elections Manitoba rejected four rural candidates because their paperwork had not been completed properly. A fifth, Joanne Levy, was disqualified because she had worked as an election enumerator earlier this year.

In early March, the Liberals severed ties with Jamie Hall — who had been approved and nominated as the party's candidate in Southdale days earlier — after misogynistic posts from his social media accounts were uncovered.

Most recently, Kurt Berger was forced to resign as the Liberal candidate in Elmwood on Monday after his ex-spouse came forward with allegations about an assault from 2002.

"Clearly the candidates ... weren't vetted beforehand and certainly [were not] given the support to make sure that any organizational gaffes or the rest of it could have been prevented," Axworthy said.

Axworthy added that while he thinks Bokhari is expressing "a sincere desire to offer a change to Manitoba," he also believes the party has not been able to articulate its vision to voters.

"I think that she's doing the best job possible, but that perhaps the organizational structure of the party and the finances of the party have made it a bit, a very un-formidable job," he said.

"With more foundation to the party, perhaps her job would have been easier."

'Disaster after disaster,' says U of M professor

Paul Thomas, professor emeritus at the University of Manitoba, said there isn't much chance for momentum to change in a campaign and "it really requires your opponents to make a mistake."

"And the big thing is the implosion of the Liberal party. Like just disaster after disaster. and a leader who needs much more time to grow and develop her skills as a leader," Thomas said. "It's been a really, really rough campaign for them."

Thomas said usually if the Liberal vote sinks, that benefits the NDP, but he isn't so sure this time.

"When there's anger and frustration towards the NDP and some people can't bring themselves to vote Liberal they may either stay home or they may vote Liberal and say 'I want to send a message as a kind of protest vote to the government'. Some will go to the PC's," he said.

 "You know they (the Liberals) could be back where they started. They could be back with one constituency, the one we're sitting in, River Heights and Dr. (Jon) Gerrard is still MLA."

Manitobans will go to the polls on April 19.

with files from Nelly Gonzalez and Chris Glover


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