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A profile of Dougald Lamont, leader of the Manitoba Liberal party since 2018

WINNIPEG — After years of working behind the scenes in politics, Dougald Lamont now has five years of experience as a Manitoba legislature member and six years at the helm of the provincial Liberals.

It has been a learning curve, he admits. 

With three seats in the legislature and a much smaller amount of money and staff than his Progressive Conservative and NDP counterparts, Lamont’s Liberals often have to fight for time in the spotlight.

However, he believes a smaller party can play a vital role.

“I know that if it weren’t for the fact that we were there, some things would never have been talked about at all,” Lamont said in an interview.

Lamont, 54, spent years in communications jobs, with freelance writing and his own digital ad agency on the side. In 2014, he co-chaired a mayoral run by Robert-Falcon Ouellette, who was then mostly unknown to the public. Ouellette finished a strong third in the seven-candidate field. 

A year later, Lamont was communications director for Ouellette’s run for the federal Liberals in Winnipeg Centre. Ouellette took the longtime NDP stronghold from incumbent Pat Martin.

Lamont won the provincial Liberal leadership in 2017 and ran for a legislature seat the following year in a byelection in St. Boniface, which had been solidly NDP for 19 years. He won, and retained the seat in the 2019 provincial election.

And while many people assume the provincial Liberals are in the political centre, Lamont said his party leans further left than the Opposition New Democrats.

“Right now, it looks like Manitobans have the option of one progressive party and two conservative parties,” Lamont said.

In the last election, Lamont promised more than $1 billion in new annual spending, partly to improve front-line services and partly to boost the economy through infrastructure work. The promise came despite warnings from credit-rating agencies in 2017 about Manitoba’s string of deficits that stretched back to 2009.

In the past, he has questioned cuts to income and small-business taxes by the former NDP government. On a personal blog several years ago, he wrote those tax cuts — not overspending — were a main driver of Manitoba’s deficits.

Lamont has scored some political success despite his party’s small staff and bank account.

He pushed the government last year to take a second look at a decision by the Crown not to lay charges against former fashion mogul Peter Nygard in Winnipeg. The government ordered an outside review and, several months later, police laid charges of sexual assault and confinement. Nygard, who also faces charges in Quebec, Ontario and the United States, has maintained his innocence.

Lamont has also led the Liberals to surprising showings in byelections, including a close call in the Fort Whyte seat in Winnipeg last year. The Liberals’ Willard Reaves came within 200 votes of winning the seat, which has always been a Progressive Conservative stronghold and went to Obby Khan.

Lamont, however, has also misfired on occasion. He once accused Tory cabinet minister Kelvin Goertzen of being in a conflict of interest because Goertzen is a landlord and voted on an omnibus bill that included provisions affecting landlords. Goertzen pointed out he had one house that he rented to his mother.

Lamont also once suggested one of the premier’s advisers donated money to the so-called “freedom convoy” that blocked streets in protest of COVID-19 restrictions. He retracted the suggestion as the donor turned out to be a different person.

Opinion polls suggest the Liberals continue to sit well back of the two major parties in terms of popular support. Under different leaders over the last 20 years, the party has usually ended up with 12 to 15 per cent of the popular vote in provincial elections, and Lamont has not yet shown signs of breaking through.

One political analyst said Lamont has shown himself to be well-informed and hard-working in offering an alternative to voters, but is not a natural at some of the glad-handing politics requires.

“I don’t think he’s a naturally gifted campaigner in terms of interacting with people in everyday life and making an instantaneous impression on them,” said Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba.

Lamont lives in Winnipeg with his wife, Cecilia. They have four children.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 5, 2023.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press