End of an era, in Portage-Lisgar and beyond

It will be an end of an era of Conservative politics in Manitoba when Candice Bergen’s name doesn’t appear on the ballot for the Portage-Lisgar constituency in the next federal election.

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Opinion

It will be an end of an era of Conservative politics in Manitoba when Candice Bergen’s name doesn’t appear on the ballot for the Portage-Lisgar constituency in the next federal election.

Ms. Bergen, who is the interim Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons until the Conservative Party of Canada chooses a new leader this weekend, announced Sept. 6 she will not run for the rural Manitoba seat when voters next go to the polls.

She has represented the riding for 14 years since winning the seat in a landslide in the 2008 election, the first of five electoral victories by large margins in the Conservative stronghold.

She was named the minister of state for social development in Stephen Harper’s government after a 2013 cabinet shuffle and served in that capacity until the 2015 federal election, when Justin Trudeau led the Liberal party to a majority government.

Ms. Bergen’s staunchly conservative views have fit well with those of her rural Manitoba constituency while she has maintained relationships with the party’s moderate voices as one of its senior members in the House.

Ms. Bergen rose through the Conservative ranks while in opposition, becoming the house leader in 2016 and the party’s deputy leader prior to assuming the interim leadership in February.

She was an appropriate choice for the role. Her staunchly conservative views have fit well with those of her rural Manitoba constituency while she has maintained relationships with the party’s moderate voices as one of its senior members in the House.

She has not publicly taken a side in the Conservative leadership race, and by announcing her decision prior to this weekend’s vote tally, she effectively sets the stage for the new leader — whether odds-on favourite Pierre Poilievre or another unexpected choice — to immediately begin charting the CPC’s course toward the next election.

Ms. Bergen has mentioned she is looking forward to spending time with her 93-year-old mother, as well as her children and grandchildren, but added she will consider job options in the private sector or as a volunteer.

SEAN KILPATRICK / CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Interim Conservative Party leader Candice Bergen

Many pundits, however, believe Ms. Bergen hasn’t ruled out a political future, owing to her many connections among Conservative power brokers in Manitoba and across Canada.

Perhaps Ms. Bergen was correct when she announced, “I’m leaving on my terms, and I felt this was a good time.”

As it turns out, now might not be the best time to be running as a Conservative candidate in Canada — Mr. Poilievre’s courting of the extreme right may win him the CPC’s top job, but Ms. Bergen has seen first-hand how ineffective such a strategy has been at delivering electoral success on a national scale.

Closer to home, Premier Heather Stefanson might be inclined to court a star candidate such as Ms. Bergen when Manitobans next go to the polls, but current polling shows the Progressive Conservatives will struggle to maintain their hold on power in next year’s election.

Those who wish to see Ms. Bergen run again in some capacity should hope she eventually perceives a shift in the political climate that is to her liking.

Recent election results in Portage-Lisgar also suggest Ms. Bergen has an accurate gauge of the changing political winds.

While she once again won her riding handily in 2021, she lost more than 18 per cent of the vote she tallied in the 2019 election — a number that corresponds neatly with the 18 per cent rise in the riding for the People’s Party of Canada, the extreme-right party that courted voters who disagreed with federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

Those who wish to see Ms. Bergen run again in some capacity should hope she eventually perceives a shift in the political climate that is to her liking. She remains a valuable political asset at either level. Should she leave politics for good, the Conservative movement in Manitoba and Canada will have lost one of the few who seem able to build bridges between the party’s far-right and moderate factions.

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