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This article was published 15/9/2016 (1302 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
OTTAWA - Manitoba MP Candice Bergen is the new House leader for the federal Conservative party.
Bergen, who will celebrate her 52nd birthday at the end of the month, replaces Andrew Scheer, who stepped down as house leader Tuesday to pursue a leadership bid.
"I am pretty excited," she told the Free Press in an interview from Halifax, where she was attending the Conservative caucus retreat.
She said it was well-known Scheer was to step down during the caucus retreat, so interim leader Rona Ambrose approached her last week about filling the role.
"I thought about it for a short time and then thanked her for the opportunity and said yes," said Bergen.
With this new job, Bergen ends her short foray into a leadership bid. At the end of August she said she was considering it on the urging of some constituents but ultimately decided it wasn't for her. One of the biggest barriers is language. Bergen does not speak French.
"The language learning curve, and not just conversational French, that's a big challenge," she said.
Bergen said she feels she can make a good impact as house leader, a role which assumes responsibility for managing the Conservatives' business in the House of Commons. That includes negotiating with the government House leader over the progress of legislation, what bills will be brought up for debate when, the calendar and any other special issues that arise. She is also there to help Conservative MPs shepherd their private members' bills through.
Bergen has eight years experience as an MP, including stints as a committee chair and parliamentary secretary as well as two years in cabinet. She was elected in 2008 but first caught the attention of many when she was the face the Conservatives put on the bill to end the long-gun registry. Although her private members' bill ultimately failed, she did manage to get it passed at second reading in a minority Parliament which was no easy feat of negotiation.
Bergen becomes the first woman to hold the post for the Conservatives. Along with Bardish Chagger, who became the first woman ever appointed as government House Leader in August, it will be the first time in Canadian history two women are in charge of house decorum and progress.
Geoff Stevens, a former parliamentary press gallery journalist and now politics professor at Wilfred Laurier University, said he thinks the choice of Bergen was likely deliberate.
"The Conservatives realize they have to compete with the Liberals for the women's vote and they did badly with women last year," Stevens said.
He said female politicians tend to be less aggressive than their male counterparts which suggests a Chagger/Bergen match up could improve things right across the House of Commons.
"The House leader sets the tone for their party," he said. "When you have a good house leader it works very well and the mood is good."
Bergen said she hopes having women in the roles will be encouraging to young women and girls. The House leaders are often those who get the most face time in Parliament, after their party leaders.
She said whether a female touch will prove things to be done differently is yet to be seen, but she did say she feels positive about working with Chagger.
"I find her to be very warm, easy to be friendly with and not at all aloof so I think that is a good foundation to start," Bergen said.
Bergen said now that she is part of the Conservative leadership group, she will not be choosing sides in the upcoming Conservative leadership contest.
She will be replaced as the critic for natural resources, a role she played off against fellow Manitoba MP Jim Carr since last November.
Updated on Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 5:43 PM CDT: Edited for CP style
5:46 PM: minor edits