Manitoba Liberal Leader Jon Gerrard
Credits: Jason Halstead/Winnipeg Sun/QMI Agency
WINNIPEG — Manitoba Liberals believe a tour of national leadership hopefuls will rejuvenate interest in their brand but others doubt the buzz will be enough to reverse a steady decline in voter support.
A national leadership debate in Winnipeg on Saturday was sold out, a development Manitoba’s outgoing provincial Liberal leader considers evidence of rising local interest.
“A resurgent federal Liberal Party will help us provincially,” said Jon Gerrard, who announced following the 2011 provincial election he’d step down as leader. “The conditions are right because the NDP have been around for a long time and people are looking for change.”
Gerrard, who toured Manitoba with federal leadership hopeful Justin Trudeau this week, said audiences of 100 to 400 hundred people attended each event.
Robert Young, a provincial Liberal leadership candidate, expects the growing support to pay off in the next election.
“I think we’re definitely going to see more Liberal votes,” he said.
Kevin Lamoureux, Manitoba’s only Liberal MP (Winnipeg North), admits there was great concern about the fate of the federal Liberal Party last year. But he said the race between nine national leadership hopefuls and a touch of Trudeaumania has re-energized its base.
“On the surface, one could be discouraged. But when you take a look at the future, I believe there’s good reason to be optimistic,” said Lamoureux. “We will see the Liberal Party come back in the province of Manitoba.”
Only one or two Liberals have won a seat in each of the last four provincial elections, down from 20 seats in 1988.
In 2011, Gerrard won the party’s sole seat and Liberals claimed 7.5% of the popular vote.
A University of Manitoba political scientist believes the party faces a daunting battle in the Manitoba legislature that a short-term national bump alone can’t overcome.
“It’s extremely tough and probably insurmountable,” said Royce Koop. “How do you get people to give you money when you might not even get a seat in government?”
Koop said the current buzz isn’t likely to spark tangible results, such as the donations and votes needed to convince provincial voters a Liberal selection isn’t a “wasted vote.”
The national picture also shows a steady decline in Liberal representation. Twelve of Manitoba’s 14 federal MPs elected in 1993 were Liberal. By 2011, that number had fallen to one.
The national Liberal leadership convention will be held April 14. The provincial leadership vote will take place around Oct. 26.