Manitoba Liberal party status could be at risk if member leaves for Ottawa

WINNIPEG — A Manitoba Liberal MLA says she is seriously considering a jump to federal politics in time for this fall's election — a move that could put the provincial party's status in the legislature at risk.

Judy Klassen confirmed Monday that she has been in contact with the federal party about possibly running for the nomination in Churchill-Keewatinook Aski, which has been held for the last 11 years by New Democrat Niki Ashton. The area includes Klassen's provincial seat.

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"I haven't made a decision yet. I don't know when," she wrote in a text message from Berens River, Man.

The idea of running federally is "mostly due to pressure from my constituents because (Manitoba Premier Brian) Pallister doesn't and refuses to help."

Klassen, first elected in 2016, is one of four Liberals in the Manitoba legislature. It's the minimum number for official party status, which brings funding, research staff and a guaranteed presence in question period and on committees.

Klassen's possible departure comes as no surprise to Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont.

"She's been talking or considering this for a number of months but nothing is confirmed as yet," Lamont said.

He said he isn't concerned that an exit by Klassen could cost the Liberals official party status. Lamont expects Pallister to call an election this spring — long before a byelection would be needed to fill Klassen's provincial seat.

"I expect we're going to have a full complement of MLAs no matter when the next election is, but also because I think it is likely to be called this spring."

The next vote is scheduled for October 2020 but Pallister has not ruled out calling one earlier. Prior to Klassen's election, her seat had been held by the New Democrats.

Two social media accounts — Twitter and Instagram — went up on the weekend that were labelled Judy Klassen MP. Lamont said as far as he knows, they are not connected to her. Klassen would only say that she had not seen them, because she was up north with sporadic internet access.

Lamont said he hasn't given Klassen a deadline to make up her mind.

"No. There's all sorts of other things to work out," he said.

"She's done a great job of representing her people and we'll support her in whatever decision she makes."

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