The Manitoba Liberal Party is gearing up for the next provincial election - now less than two months away, on Oct. 4 - and Ken Dillen, who spent four years as the MLA for the Thompson riding is hoping to win his old job back from incumbent Steve Ashton of the NDP, who has held the seat since 1981 when he beat the Progressive Conservative candidate Ken McMaster, who won it from Dillen in the 1977 election.
Dillen was the NDP MLA from 1973 to 1977.
"I'm really excited about the opportunity, if it's given to me, to represent Thompson again," said the 73-year-old Dillen, who won the nomination in June.
Before his first foray into politics, Dillen was an ironworker and later became a union president, according to the Manitoba Liberals website. He beat Progressive Conservative candidate and former Thompson city councillor Anna Denby by fewer than 300 votes in the 1973 election, which saw Dr. Blain Johnston, father of Thompson Mayor Tim Johnston finish third, about 400 votes back of Denby.
He served as legislative assistant to Premier Ed Schreyer during his time as an MLA, which ended when McMaster beat him by 916 votes in the 1977 election.
"I am one of the first First Nation members to become a Member of the Legislative Assembly," Dillen said in an interview with the Thompson Citizen on Aug. 2.
The Liberal candidate says Manitoba is ripe for a change in direction from the current government.
"I think my impression of Manitoba over the last three or four years is that it is stagnating," he said, and in need of a new vision and new purpose. Dillen says the party that forms the province's next government must improve economic conditions in order to set the stage to tackle Manitobga's other problems. "In my personal opionin it is impossible to bring about social change unless you have the capacity to do it."
As for the monumental task of unseating Ashton from the seat he's held for 30 years - and won by nearly 2,400 votes in 2007 - Dillen says he relishes the challenge and respects the contributions the NDP cabinet minister has made over his political career.
"I have a great admiration for people who give themselves to public life," says Dillen, who recently returned to Manitoba after living in Saskatchewan since shortly after his defeat by McMaster.
"Mr. Dillen is well aware of the challenges of running against Mr. Ashton and of course we are pleased to provide him support to run a strong campaign, said Dennis Trochim, the Liberal party's executive director in a June announcement of two recently nomiated candidates, including Dillen. "More interesting is the fact that a former NDP heavyweight is joining the chorus of Manitobans who feel that the NDP are no longer in the position to form government. Mr. Dillen feels that Manitoba Liberals will offer the best platform for ideas to lead Manitoba."
Dillen says that Dr. Jon Gerrard and the Manitoba Liberals organization are what attracted him to the challenge of serving as Thompson's Liberal candidate.
"I think they have a tremendous leader," he said. "The planning process is impeccable. The vision is really what impresses me and I really want to make contributions to it."
Dillen has plenty of work to get done before the election campaign actually starts.
"I am making contact will all of the known members of the association," said Dillen. "It's pleasing to learn that there are as many as there are."
Tasks to complete before the election arrives include planning and organizational activities such as fundraising, signing up canvassers and producing election signs and campaign literature. "I'm working on them at the present time."
As of early June, the Liberals had officially nominated 26 candidates and 15 more nomination meetings were scheduled for that month. Nomination meetings were held in The Pas, St. Boniface and the Lakeside electoral district on Aug. 4, which was also the deadline for applications in Swan River. A nomination meeting in The Maples is scheduled for tomorrow.
The Liberal party has also introduced some changes to its website to make it election-ready.
Gerrard is currently the only Liberal MLA in the province, after Kevin Lamoureux resigned his seat in the Inkster riding to run as a Liberal candidate in a federal byelection.