Manitoba Liberals drop another candidate; drop in polls as election nears
Court documents show Kurt Berger was given a conditional sentence of two years' probation for assaulting his common-law wife. (File image)
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, April 4, 2016 11:27AM CST
Last Updated Monday, April 4, 2016 5:35PM CST
WINNIPEG -- The Manitoba Liberal Party lost another candidate and received some bad polling news Monday -- the latest blows in what party leader Rana Bokhari admitted has been a "rough week" leading up to the April 19 provincial election.
The Liberals fired Kurt Berger as their candidate in the Elmwood constituency, three days after The Canadian Press revealed Berger had pleaded guilty to assaulting a girlfriend in 2002. Berger was put on probation following the plea and given a conditional discharge.
Berger had been upfront about the incident when he applied to be a candidate, Liberal Leader Rana Bokhari said, but his former girlfriend contacted the Liberals on Monday with new accusations which Bokhari did not reveal.
"If it's he-said, she-said, and that's what this has become, then I have to side with the female. I have to side with the woman," Bokhari said.
Berger said Monday the new accusations are not true, but he agrees it is best for him to drop out, especially out of concern for a child the couple had together and who lives with Berger.
"As much as I wanted to serve the province ... I'm at a point where I want to protect those that I love," he said.
"I don't want to be dragged through the news for the next two weeks and have my child ... reading about it or hearing about it."
The Liberals have already lost other candidates and have failed to field a full slate of 57 for the first time since 1999. One candidate was disqualified by Elections Manitoba for having been an enumerator, three others had improper addresses on their nomination forms and another failed to get their paperwork submitted in time.
The Liberals hold just one seat in the legislature and have traditionally been a bit player in the province's political scene. But their occasional spikes in opinion polls can threaten the New Democrats, because both parties tend to get support from the same areas, mostly in urban Winnipeg.
Opinion polls over the last two years have suggested Liberal support has risen sharply -- to well above 20 per cent, in a virtual tie with the NDP. But a poll released Monday by Insight Manitoba suggests the Liberals have dropped firmly to third place at 15 per cent.
The poll pegged Progressive Conservative support at 42 per cent and NDP support at 22. Sixteen per cent of respondents were undecided.
The automated voice-response poll involved 4,592 Manitobans between March 26 and April 3, and is considered accurate within plus-or-minus 1.43 per cent, 19 times out of 20. Insight's officials have Liberal connections -- one managing partner, James Cook, is a Liberal campaign manager in the St. James constituency, and another, Eric Stewart, ran for the Liberals in the last provincial election.
The poll follows a week in which Bokhari also sparred with the media and released a fiscal platform that was roundly criticized by local columnists and editorial writers.
Bokhari told reporters Monday "it's been a rough week," but said the Liberals can bounce back.
"When Manitobans have this opportunity to make that decision of who you're going to want in those (legislature) seats for the next four years, I'm confident they're going to pick members of the Manitoba Liberal Party."
Progressive Conservative Leader Brian Pallister focused Monday on taxes. He promised to raise income tax brackets along with the rate of inflation every year of elected. He also promised to raise the personal basic exemption -- the threshold at which people start paying income tax.
NDP Leader Greg Selinger promised more job training by covering course fees and living expenses for 1,500 more apprenticeship students each year.