Rural political powerhouse MP Bergen won’t seek re-election
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Manitoba Tory MP Candice Bergen declined to delve into her political future Tuesday, including whether she’ll jump into provincial politics, after announcing she won’t seek re-election after 14 years.
“I’m not ready to retire from everything,” Bergen, 57, said in an interview Tuesday.
“I want to see what other opportunities might be available; what other passions and interests I can pursue. But I’m leaving on my terms, and I felt this was a good time.”
First elected in Portage—Lisgar in 2008, Bergen has served the sprawling riding for 14 years and as interim leader of a polarized Progressive Conservative party for the last seven months. The latter, she said, “has been very rewarding, very gratifying to see caucus reunited and come together again.”
Her job as interim leader ends this weekend, when members select their third leader in as many years. With 678,708 eligible to vote in the process, the party is, by membership, the largest in Canadian history.
”I’m leaving on my terms, and I felt this was a good time.” – Candice Bergen
“It’s been so positive to have been the leader and really help facilitate that, and I felt I want to leave on a high note,” said Bergen, who faced criticism after a photo circulated of her wearing a Make America Great Again ballcap during U.S. president Donald Trump’s time in office.
In a news release Tuesday, she said she is “committed in the immediate future” to serving her constituents.
With the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba languishing in the polls after ousting an unpopular premier Brian Pallister as leader and replacing him with the so-far less-popular Heather Stefanson, some are waiting to see if Bergen seeks to take the reins.
“The fact is, she’s very popular with an important segment of the Manitoba PC party that donates a lot of money and shows up in big numbers for things like leadership contests and for volunteering,” said political commentator Deveryn Ross.
“They’re an enthusiastic part of the party and the party absolutely relies on them,” said Ross, who served as Pallister’s deputy chief of staff. “She automatically has a ton of support if she ever does want to be the leader and there’s a good possibility that that position could be open within the next couple of years.”
On Tuesday, Bergen said she doesn’t have her sights set on that role.
“It’s not smart to ever rule anything out, but that is not why I’ve announced I’m not running (federally),” she said. “We have a strong leader, a good leader. Heather Stefanson has taken over the party, also during a difficult time, and I know she’s working hard, so I support her.”
The Manitoba PCs have pushed their annual fall general meeting to the spring, which gives the party time to reconsider leadership if the premier’s “summer charm offensive” and funding announcements don’t result in higher approval ratings in the lead-up to the 2023 election, said Ross.
PC party president Brent Pooles said in an email Tuesday the AGM was delayed until spring so as not to interfere with the Kirkfield Park byelection due in in December.
A safe Tory seat will open in the next provincial election with the retirement of MLA Blaine Pedersen. The district — Midland — includes much of Bergen’s Portage—Lisgar federal riding.
“(Bergen) is experienced, both in the opposition and government,” said Ross. “That really makes her a a solid candidate, potentially, for leadership of the PC party here in Manitoba.”
“(Bergen) is experienced, both in the opposition and government… That really makes her a a solid candidate, potentially, for leadership of the PC party here in Manitoba.” – Deveryn Ross
University of Manitoba political studies Prof. Christopher Adams isn’t convinced Bergen would run in the next provincial election if polls indicate the PCs won’t win a majority. However, if the federal Conservatives win the next election, Bergen will have a host of opportunities, he said.
“There’s some possibilities for appointments in different places in the world or on certain commissions,” said Adams. “She’s a well-established person in the party.”
Winkler Mayor Martin Harder says he thinks Bergen, whom he and his wife saw in action as leader of the official Opposition during an Ottawa trip this spring, has more to give.
“I came back from there honestly impressed, not because of the political party, necessarily, but as an individual… I honestly have never seen anybody work harder than I saw Candice work,” said the mayor, who, too, is not running for re-election.
“She just pours her life into it… She’s never afraid to do anything, never afraid to say no, never afraid to stand up for what she believes, and I just basically respect her for it.”
Bergen, a grandmother who turns 58 at the end of the month, whose own mother is 93, has dementia and lives in the Tabor Home in Morden, said she is looking forward to spending more time with her mom and being in her riding.
“Whether it’s in the private sector or as a volunteer at a not-for-profit, there are a lot of things that I’d like to do. I did a lot of that before I was elected and so I’d like to be able to do some things that are gratifying and rewarding, and maybe not quite as much of a demand on my time. Still, I’m looking forward to other challenges and opportunities that lay ahead.”
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.
Updated on Tuesday, September 6, 2022 10:20 PM CDT: paragraph rephrased