Young farmer chooses Liberals

This is the first in a series of stories about farmers who are becoming directly involved in the Manitoba election.

HUDSON, Man. — Jamal Abas doesn’t mind shocking people if he does it in what he thinks is a good cause.

And that’s what he did a few months ago when he chatted with farmers outside his uncle’s store near the family farm in Manitoba’s Interlake region.

He told them he was running for elected office in the upcoming Manitoba provincial election, and he was running as a Liberal.

“They all seemed supportive, but they were all very shocked,” said Abas, a 25-year-old who farms with his family on an Interlake cow-calf operation.

“’Jamal, why are you running as a Liberal? You should be running as a Conservative.”

Other stories in this series:

Fighting against the idea that the Progressive Conservative party is the “farmer’s party” might be as much a struggle for Abas as fighting the power of incumbency held by the present NDP MLA.

But Abas, who has been campaigning whenever he can squeeze time away from helping with calving the farm’s 180 cows, thinks Liberal moderation might find support in what he thinks is an inherently moderate area.

“This election is all about balance,” he said as he sat at his kitchen table while other family members buzzed around the farm, which also grows canola, wheat, oats and barley.

Jamal is pushing the idea that a Liberal government would provide critical infrastructure funding that local people need to combat chronic flooding problems but not drown Manitoba with a provincial government that is too big.

He’s also been arguing that the PCs might cut taxes too aggressively, robbing the government of the money it will need to fix the Interlake’s flooding problems.

Jamal’s father, Boyd, is a longtime municipal councillor with the Rural Municipality of Fisher, but didn’t immediately embrace Jamal’s political ambitions.

“Initially I tried in a nice way to divert the idea,” said Boyd, who sees politics as a tough occupation.

“But he seemed to want to embrace it.”

He now seems proud of what his son is doing.

The Abas family doesn’t shy from challenges. Jamal’s great-grandparents moved to the Interlake in 1913 from Minnesota, where Jamal’s great-grandfather had been working as a travelling salesman after immigrating to the United States from what is now Lebanon.

Four generations on, the farm is busy and the family active around the community.

The Interlake has been badly affected by flooding in recent years. Lake Manitoba’s problems continue, the Shoal Lakes situation is growing worse and the terrible saturation around Arborg has repeatedly damaged farms.

That’s what Abas hopes he can offer in the election: practical solutions.

“It is always people over politics,” he said before putting on his hat and driving over to the calving facilities a few kilometres away to check on the herd.

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