Manitoba

Manitoba Liberals lobby for official party status despite falling 1 seat short

The Manitoba Liberals are arguing they shouldn't be stripped of official party status, in spite of winning only three seats — one short of the four required for party status — in last month's provincial election.

4-seat standard is an 'antiquated definition,' Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont says in lobbying for change

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont is calling on his colleagues at the Manitoba Legislature to support a bill that would confer official party status on any party that wins at least two seats in the legislature and 10 per cent of the vote. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

The Manitoba Liberals are arguing they shouldn't be stripped of official party status, in spite of winning only three seats — one short of the four required under provincial legislation for party status — in last month's provincial election.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont tabled a private member's bill on Wednesday to ask for an overhaul of the rules governing official party status in Manitoba, arguing they are outdated and arbitrary. 

"We ran together on a platform. We have the support of tens of thousands of Manitobans. It's legitimate for us to say we deserve to be treated as an official party," Lamont said after question period on Wednesday.

Official party status brings benefits such as more funding, more money to employ staff and more time to speak in question period.

2 seats required in some provinces

The Liberals won only three seats in the 57-seat provincial legislature in the 2016 election, but earned official party status in 2018, when Lamont won a byelection in St. Boniface.

He won that seat again in the Sept. 10 provincial election. Fellow Liberals Cindy Lamoureux (Tyndall Park) and Jon Gerrard (River Heights) were the only other Liberals to win seats. The Liberals lost the Keewatinook seat — previously held by Judy Klassen, who chose to run instead in the upcoming federal election — to the NDP.

Lamont is surrounded by some of his party's candidates at the legislature on Sept. 4, in advance of last month's provincial election. His party ran candidates in all 57 ridings, but only three were elected. (Austin Grabish/CBC)

Lamont's private member's bill is proposing that official party status be extended if at least two of the party's candidates are elected, and they receive at least 10 per cent of the vote.

Only two seats are required for official party recognition in other provinces, such as Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia, and Lamont noted in question period that his party received around 15 per cent of the popular vote in the last election — which is half of what the Opposition NDP garnered to win 18 seats.

Lamont told question period the target of four seats is an "antiquated definition" established nearly 100 years ago.

He said his bill would allow smaller parties to have a strong voice in the legislature.

"The idea that we have to be treated as independent MLAs and essentially be at the mercy of official parties is part of the issue. It's about our abilities to do our jobs, and to serve our constituents, but also talk about issues for all of Manitoba."

The bill will need the support of the governing Progressive Conservatives in order to pass. Even with that support, it's unclear whether the bill could be passed in an abbreviated two-week sitting of the legislature, during which no time has been set aside to debate the legislation.

Premier Brian Pallister says he'll consider Lamont's request and the reasons behind it.

"I always take private members' initiatives ... seriously and I have a read through them, so I'll do the same with his," he said outside question period.

The Opposition New Democrats said they would take a look at Lamont's bill, but NDP House leader Nahanni Fontaine appeared unenthusiastic.

"If you want to gain official party status, do the work that you need to do in order to gain the confidence of Manitoba voters," Fontaine said.

With files from The Canadian Press

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