From Pakistan to poultry farms: the politics of Rana Bokhari

Here's a twist of fate to consider: If Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari's dad wasn't such a good athlete in his youth, Bokhari today might not be running for office.

Liberal leader navigates 'tough days' in public eye, leans on family to keep her grounded

At 39, Rana Bokhari is the youngest person ever to lead the Manitoba Liberal Party. (CBC)

Here's a twist of fate to consider: if Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari's dad hadn't been such a good athlete in his youth, Bokhari today might not be running for office.

"It's a fascinating story, now that I think about it," said Bokhari, who hopes to become Manitoba's premier this April. "[My father] gave up a lot, and all for us."

When Bokhari's father was just a teenager, newly married back in Pakistan, he was a  field hockey player. He was talented — so talented, in fact, that he was invited to try out for the national team. That scared Bokhari's grandfather, who felt there was no future for anyone in the sport. He sent Bokhari's dad to Canada, where he started a new life.

Then, Rana was born.

"Imagine, you're a parent. You know that things are not going well there. You know that's not the place you want your future generations to be," Bokhari said.  

"I remember my dad just saying, 'Well, if he would have kept me there, and I would have made the team, and we would have played and went to nationals,' he would have never got out of there."

It was just one anecdote about her past that Bokhari, 39, revealed in a one-on-one interview with CBC News, as she looked back at the circumstances that led her to become the youngest Liberal leader in the province and the first South Asian candidate for premier. 
Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari sits down with CBC Radio's Donna Carreiro to talk about politics, family and the future. 3:33

There was the family farm outside Anola, Man., where she and her siblings helped their parents raise hens and sell eggs. There was the cultural curiosity of being the "only brown family" in the area, yet being too busy running the farm to take part in community activities.

I'm growing up in a family where everyone has to be a doctor, a lawyer.... You want to talk about culture? There you go.- Rana Bokhari

There was the time, during high school at Springfield Collegiate (class of '95), that she wanted to become a doctor.

"I'm growing up in a family where everyone has to be a doctor, a lawyer or an engineer, so let's just put that onto the table, " Bokhari said, breaking into laughter. "You want to talk about culture, there you go. That's the cultural thing that I carried with me all my life."

Then there was the time after high school that she wanted to become a fashion designer. (The last item she made? A blazer for herself, three years ago.)

Family farm goes under

There were the bad times in the late '90s, when the family farm went bust. They lost everything they had and her dad, under stress, suffered a series of strokes. In 2002, they sought reprieve back in Pakistan, where Bokhari, armed with an antiquated sewing machine, designed clothes to help support the family.

"It's hard to articulate what families go through in times of financial difficulty, right? It comes back to them needing to reconnect with something that was theirs," Bokhari said.
Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari sits down with CBC Radio's Donna Carreiro to talk about politics, family and the future. 1:54

"That's when I started designing clothes. Frankly, I was just trying to do something to help. Took care of mom, took care of dad."

In 2006, they returned to Canada, and two degrees later, Bokhari started law school (it took her three tries to get accepted).

In 2008, following in her sister's footsteps, Bokhari joined the provincial Liberal Party. But while her brothers, Syed and Mo, both ran for the provincial Liberals in 2011, Bokhari didn't follow suit until the leadership race in 2013. Soon after she was called to the bar.

'Forced to play politics'

It's still, for all intents and purposes, a family affair. She still lives with her parents and still relies on them to keep her grounded, she said, as she navigates life under a political spotlight.

It's stuff that people put in your ear. "Hey, hey Rana , you know, maybe that was a bit too passionate." -  Rana Bokhari

"When you're in this position, you walk in and you're almost forced to play politics. Right? Like you're forced to put on the blazer, put on the skirt, make the appropriate comment at the appropriate time, keep all emotion out of it," Bokhari said.

"It's just stuff that you hear. It's stuff that you kind of read. It's stuff that people put in your ear. 'Hey, hey Rana, you know, maybe that was a bit too passionate there, maybe you want to calm down a bit.'"

Today, Bokhari said she's confident enough to ignore those critics and is determined, leading into this spring's election, to be more true to her nature. And true to her family history, she said she'll rely on her parents when she needs the support to help her do that.

"This is still me getting used to being in the public eye.... Nobody can prepare you for this kind of stuff. You have to live and learn it," Bokhari said. "I'm constantly trying to listen [to my parents'] voices when I'm having those tough days."

Tune in to CBC's Information Radio at 8:10 a.m. Monday for more on this story.

On Tuesday, CBC News takes a look at a chapter from Bokhari's past that she would like to leave behind: her time and role with the Carroll Law Firm. The firm was later investigated for fees it charged residential school survivors when processing compensation claims.

Donna Carreiro can be reached at

Manitoba Liberal leader Rana Bokhari sits down with CBC's Chris Glover to talk about the past year in politics. 19:37

About the Author

Donna Carreiro

CBC Radio Current Affairs Producer

Donna Carreiro is an award winning producer and journalist, who has worked for more than 25 years with CBC Manitoba. Prior to that, she was a print journalist for a daily newspaper and local magazines. She is drawn to stories of social justice (or injustice), that give a voice to those who most need one. She can be reached at


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.