Federal Tories fear Manitoba MP will make run for provincial PC leader

The federal Conservatives’ deputy leader, Candice Bergen, says she’s focused on getting re-elected, but won't rule out jumping ship to run for Manitoba premier.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 17/08/2021 (414 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The federal Conservatives’ deputy leader, Candice Bergen, says she’s focused on getting re-elected, but won’t rule out jumping ship to run for Manitoba premier.

That’s worried Conservative MPs from Alberta and Saskatchewan, who say Bergen has helped quell dissent over policies Tory Leader Erin O’Toole has designed to drum up support in Quebec and Ontario.

“There’s been a lot of speculation about Candice running for provincial leadership,” one MP from outside Manitoba told the Free Press.

“I know she’s been kicking tires a lot.”

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/Sean Kilpatrick Conservative member of Parliament Candice Bergen has until Aug. 30 to submit her papers to be a candidate in the upcoming federal election.

Bergen has until Aug. 30 to submit her papers to be a federal candidate, and her office insists that is the plan.

Still, some MPs fear Bergen will get re-elected on Sept. 20, then resign her seat to run for the provincial leadership — an idea Bergen herself would not rule out.

“Ms. Bergen generally does not respond to hypothetical scenarios,” Bergen’s office wrote Tuesday.

The provincial Progressive Conservatives have not yet set a date for a leadership race. Premier Brian Pallister announced Aug. 10 he would step down.

“There’s been a lot of speculation about Candice running for provincial leadership… I know she’s been kicking tires a lot.”
– MP from outside Manitoba

Bergen has represented the federal Portage-Lisgar riding since 2008, and quickly became a rising star in the party for her advocacy against the long-gun registry.

The federal Conservative Party was formed in 2003 in an attempt to heal divisions between urban progressives and rural, right-wing voters who were part of the former Reform and Alliance parties.

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/Adrian Wyld Bergen has represented the federal Portage-Lisgar riding since 2008.

The Conservatives still struggle to hit that balance, particularly as parties focus on a growing number of swing ridings in the suburbs around Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

“There are clear cleavages within the Conservative Party; there’s no doubt about that,” said Duane Bratt, a Calgary political scientist at Mount Royal University.

“A lot of it is geographic, as well as ideological, and O’Toole has had a tough time holding those groups together.”

Numerous media outlets have reported that O’Toole has faced pushback from within his caucus, particularly from MPs and senators representing Alberta and Saskatchewan, over plans to embrace net-zero emissions, and a convoluted proposal to give Canadians carbon credits to help them pay for more efficient goods.

As O’Toole’s second in command, Bergen has played a backroom role in giving O’Toole the pulse of his Prairie base and brokering calm with his MPs by explaining his rationale.

“She’s definitely a bridge-builder; she’s gotten MPs together in smaller groups to hear folks out. She does that really, really well.”
– Federal staffer

“She’s definitely a bridge-builder; she’s gotten MPs together in smaller groups to hear folks out. She does that really, really well,” said one federal staffer.

Bergen mulled a run for federal Tory leadership in 2020, but ultimately didn’t enter the race, later saying her French wasn’t good enough.

She raised eyebrows last November, when she decried the lack of data guiding COVID-19 restrictions, decrying “provinces like Manitoba making decisions in a panic, which have drastic consequences and negative impacts on the lives of Manitobans.”

At the time, Bergen called for Manitoba to release “publicly available and comprehensive data on COVID-19 to judge the appropriateness” of lockdowns, such as the impact on not just infection rates but also delayed surgeries, family separation and mental health.

THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES/Sean Kilpatrick As the second in command to Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole, Deputy Leader Candice Bergen has played a backroom role brokering calm with his MPs by explaining his rationale.

MPs pondered whether Bergen was laying the groundwork to replace Pallister, though she insisted her critiques related to the federal handling of the pandemic.

Bergen was top of mind when Pallister resigned last week, particularly among Alberta and Saskatchewan MPs.

Initially, there was concern Bergen would remove herself as candidate for Portage-Lisgar and wait for the provincial Tories to start their leadership race.

Bezan mum on PC run

Manitoba’s longest serving MP says he’s focused on getting re-elected, but has not ruled out running to lead the provincial PCs.

Conservative MP James Bezan has represented Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman since 2004. Some have speculated that he might run to lead the PC party, though he’s not among the names that politicos most commonly bring up when discussing the leadership race.

Manitoba’s longest serving MP says he’s focused on getting re-elected, but has not ruled out running to lead the provincial PCs.

Conservative MP James Bezan has represented Selkirk-Interlake-Eastman since 2004. Some have speculated that he might run to lead the PC party, though he’s not among the names that politicos most commonly bring up when discussing the leadership race.

“Right now we are focused on winning the next federal election,” Bezan’s assistant said Tuesday.

His team would not comment on the idea of Bezan resigning after next month’s election to enter a provincial PC race.

“James is grateful to everyone who’s reached out to express their support,” the assistant said.

— Dylan Robertson

Many said that would be a huge blow to a party already feeling demoralized about the current election campaign.

That concern has abated since the federal race got underway Sunday. Bergen has been the federal Tories’ candidate for Portage-Lisgar since January. “That is her focus at this time and what she is committed to doing,” her staff wrote Tuesday.

Yet some MPs still wonder if Bergen will resign her seat after the election to run for the PC leadership.

Closer to home, Bergen has not told Manitoba MPs about any imminent run, nor has she asked about soliciting donations.

Those Manitoba MPs and their staff feel Bergen might have a chance at PC leadership, but many felt she’d struggle to grow the party’s support in battleground Winnipeg ridings.

Bergen was among the half of Conservative MPs who voted against legislation to ban anti-gay conversion therapy, arguing the bill’s wording wasn’t tight enough to prevent it being used to intrude on religious freedom. She refused in January to explain a photo that emerged of her wearing a Make America Great Again hat.

Bratt said that if the Conservatives get a lacklustre result in the current election campaign, some senior Tories may head for the exits.

He noted that before being elected Alberta premier, Jason Kenney was a prominent federal minister when the Harper government lost office in 2015. Kenney announced nine months later he’d resign as MP to enter provincial politics, prompting a byelection.

“If I’m Candice Bergen maybe I’m making the same choices that Kenney did,” Bratt said.

“The prospects are not good for the federal Conservatives, (so) maybe she’ll try her hand at provincial politics.”

dylan.robertson@freepress.mb.ca

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