Carr’s son ponders run for Winnipeg South Centre seat
Bergen expected to resign in Portage-Lisgar
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Big changes are expected in two Manitoba federal ridings this year.
Ben Carr is considering a run in Winnipeg South Centre, where his father Jim occupied the seat for the Liberals from 2015 until his death Dec. 12 from cancer at the age of 71.
“I’m giving it serious consideration at the moment,” Carr, 36, said in an interview Monday.
Meanwhile, jockeying to replace Conservative MP Candice Bergen in Portage-Lisgar began after she told hundreds of people gathered at a November gala in Winkler that it was likely her last public event as the member for the Tory stronghold. She’s expected to resign her seat soon.
With a Liberal nomination meeting expected before long in Winnipeg South Centre and a byelection as soon as summer, Carr is having to consider his political aspirations sooner than he’d hoped, he said.
“The circumstances that unfortunately have transpired in the last couple of weeks have put me into a situation where I’ve had to be thinking about this, certainly earlier than I would’ve liked to for obvious reasons,” said Carr, who is the vice-president of Indigenous Strategy Alliance and a former teacher, school principal and volunteer coach.
“My dad and I talked about politics all the the time but this was not something that I was hoping to face at this point in time because, obviously, what that means is that he’s not around,” Carr said, adding he didn’t know when he’d be ready to make a decision.
“I love my dad and I’m proud to be his son and he instilled in me a tremendous number of values and life lessons learned through his experiences. I think that my commitment to public service and my desire to continue to contribute… is at the foundation of all of this.”
Bergen, who served as the interim leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, announced in September that she would not seek re-election in Portage-Lisgar in the next federal election that will take place on or before Oct. 20, 2025.
Several sources who attended the Winkler and District Chamber of Commerce awards gala in November told the Free Press that Bergen was thanked for her service in speeches following her remarks. The implication was that she intends to resign the seat she’s held since 2008 early this year, necessitating a byelection.
Under the Parliament of Canada Act, when notice is given that a seat is vacant, a byelection must be called within 180 days, with an election period of at least 36 days and no more than 50. The only exception is where a vacancy occurs in the nine months before a fixed-date general election. In that case, no byelection is called and the seat remains vacant until the general election.
Bergen hasn’t announced her departure date and, until she does, those seeking the Conservative nod in her riding will likely keep a lid on campaigning out of respect for the sitting MP, said Conservative senator and Bergen confidant Don Plett.
“After that, the names will come out fast and furious and there will be a lot of interest,” he said Monday.
So far, former MP Lawrence Toet — who held the Elmwood-Transcona seat for the Conservatives for one term before losing it to NDP candidate Daniel Blaikie in 2015 — has expressed an interest in seeking the Tory nod in Portage-Lisgar.
“His family comes from the area and he has close ties to the community,” said former St. Boniface MP Shelly Glover, who is supporting Toet, who supported her run for the leadership of the provincial Progressive Conservative party in 2021. “Some of his children and grandchildren reside in the riding so it’s a natural fit for him to represent the area. He is also supported by local business owners and politicians.”
Other potential Conservative candidates include Bergen’s former campaign manager Branden Leslie, who’s manager of policy and government relations for Grain Growers of Canada in Ottawa. Rejeanne Caron, who has run unsuccessfully for the Conservatives in two Winnipeg ridings in the last two federal elections, may also seek the nomination, confirmed Plett.
He’s not endorsing Toet, Leslie or Caron, saying they’d all be “good candidates.”
He wouldn’t share what Bergen’s intentions are.
“If Candice is going to be stepping down early, I suspect she’d be making that announcement shortly in the new year, maybe after we’re back in session,” Plett said. The House is back in session Jan. 30.
The Conservative Association in Portage-Lisgar has not announced a date for selecting a nominee and did not respond to requests for comment, but sources say it may be held as soon as March.
“I expect a very heated nomination race and I’m certainly looking forward to it,” Plett said. “We need that to energize the people in Manitoba.”
Whoever wins the nomination for the Conservatives in Portage-Lisgar will likely win the riding, said the Senate Opposition leader.
“It’s one of the ridings in Manitoba where the main battle will be the nomination race,” Plett said.
In the 2021 federal election, the People’s Party of Canada candidate was Bergen’s top rival, winning 22 per cent of the vote. Since then, the Conservatives have elected a new leader who is more appealing to the Portage-Lisgar base, said Plett.
“I believe now, with Pierre Poilievre having won the leadership election, it will make it an even more solid riding,” he said. “It’s a very interesting and good riding for the Conservatives.”
Portage-Lisgar is a much safer seat for the Conservatives than Winnipeg South is for the Liberals, said University of Manitoba political studies Prof. Christopher Adams.
“Candice Bergen has won, year in and year out, with the high margins — in part, because of her name recognition, but also it is an extremely safe riding if you look at the history,” Adams said Monday. “I don’t consider a serious challenge for that riding unless there’s some very notable person from the area who suddenly ran for the the People’s Party.”
Adams said Carr would definitely be a frontrunner for the Liberal nomination in Winnipeg South Centre.
“He carries a name that’s highly respected in the Liberal party, for obvious reasons,” the academic said.
The riding has been held by prominent Liberals, such as former foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy and Anita Neville, Manitoba’s lieutenant governor.
The Liberals haven’t always won the riding, though, he said. Conservative Joyce Bateman held the seat from 2011 to 2015.
“I would not consider it an overly safe seat,” Adams said.
After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.