Constituents, Prairie Conservatives happy to see Portage MP Candice Bergen take over as interim leader
Bergen a logical choice, but 'out of step with where mainstream Canadians are' on some issues: Brandon prof
As Manitoba MP Candice Bergen takes over as interim leader of the federal Conservative party, some Prairie Conservatives say they hope the seasoned politician can bring stability and unity to the party as it prepares for another leadership race.
Bergen replaces Erin O'Toole, who was ousted as leader by his caucus in a vote Wednesday.
She has served as MP for the south-central Manitoba riding of Portage–Lisgar since 2008, and has been among the most prominent Conservative voices in Parliament.
On Thursday, some constituents in Portage la Prairie, which is part of Bergen's riding, said they were happy to see their MP take the helm of the federal party.
"She's the best thing that's ever happened to the Conservative party. She speaks her mind. She says what's right, what's wrong," said Mike Yewchyn.
"She's going to call out all the corruption. She's going to nail that Justin Trudeau to the wall."
Diane Coull said Bergen is a well-appreciated member of the Portage community.
"I was quite surprised when I heard it. She's been our MP in this area for a lot of years and I think it's exciting," Coull said.
The Portage MP takes over from O'Toole, who was criticized by some party members for running as a "true blue" Conservative in the party's leadership race, only to shift the party to the centre when in the top job.
Bergen, by contrast, has received her share of criticism for her socially conservative stances. She voted against a bill to outlaw conversion therapy, has fought to end the long-gun registry, and this week voiced her support for a cross-country convoy opposing COVID-19 rules.
She also took flak this week for likening the displaying of Nazi flags in the streets during the convoy's protests in Ottawa to the beheading of a statue of Queen Victoria at the Manitoba legislature on Canada Day.
The statue was toppled and its head later removed following an Every Child Matters walk to remember the thousands of Indigenous children who died at residential schools the government forced them to attend.
'You know where she sits'
But Erika Barootes, the former president of Alberta's United Conservative Party, says Bergen's strong stances might win supporters.
"You know where she sits, regardless of if you agree or disagree with some of her positions," Barootes said.
"I do think that that is a skill set that can really help … because there's no question of what she believes in."
She also thinks Bergen's appointment is a sign the federal Conservatives are trying to bring all voices into the fold.
Bergen's years of experience with the party, which include time as its deputy leader and House leader, also make her a good choice for the interim role, Barootes said.
"She's been involved for decades representing Manitoba and truly does understand the big tent that the Conservative Party has, in all the different types of conservatives that call the party home," Barootes said.
"So I think she can really speak and represent caucus and the party members in a very authentic way."
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Vaibhav Varma, president of the University of Manitoba Campus Conservatives, said he's met Bergen numerous times when she's come to his group's events. He described her as a down-to-earth person who is easy to talk to.
"It's been decades and decades since someone representing a Manitoba riding has been leading the Conservative Party, and I'm really optimistic to see how she'll lead our party through this time of challenge," he said.
Moving forward, Bergen needs to unite party members around what they have in common and focus on holding the Trudeau government accountable, says Ako Ufodike, chair of the national council for the Association of Black Conservatives.
"Folks are dealing with a lot right now, when you think of the COVID response, when you think of mental health situations, when you think of rising inflation … that's enough for the Conservative leader, Opposition leader who knows what they're doing to focus on," he said from Calgary.
"If she can do that, I think folks within the party and the broader public will start to see us as a functional and effective Opposition."
Kelly Saunders, an assistant professor of political science at Brandon University, says Bergen is a logical choice for interim party leader.
"It shows the direction the party is headed in. It certainly appears that it was more of the right-wing faction within the party that led the ouster of former leader Erin O'Toole," she said.
"The fact that they selected her seems to suggest that they are more in charge of the direction of the party."
However, Saunders also thinks while Bergen's comments likening statue toppling to displaying Nazi flags may resonate with the right-wing faction of the federal Conservative party, it isn't a view most Canadians agree with.
"She's reflecting the more Conservative elements within her party and the more Conservative elements within her base," Saunders said.
"I think she's out of step with where mainstream Canadians are with these issues, particularly with issues in regards to residential schools."
As interim leader, Bergen will not be allowed to run for permanent leadership when that race is held. A date has not yet been determined.
With files from Marina von Stackelberg