WINNIPEG — Candice Bergen has signed on to co-chair the Manitoba Progressive Conservative election campaign, weeks after resigning her seat in the House of Commons.
Bergen, who was the member of Parliament for Portage-Lisgar for 15 years, says she aims to unite the provincial Tories in advance of the election scheduled for Oct. 3.
"I would say the role I'm playing now is … reaching out, in terms of bringing people together, bringing all the different coalitions that make up our party together, and standing behind the leader," Bergen said in an interview Thursday.
Opinion polls suggest Bergen faces an uphill battle. The governing Progressive Conservatives have trailed the Opposition New Democrats in polls for two years — a trend that began when hospitals were struggling to deal with a surge of patients during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The numbers did not improve when Brian Pallister resigned as premier in the fall of 2021 and was replaced by Heather Stefanson. The latest poll from Probe Research earlier this month suggested Tory support has nudged up a little but is still below that of the NDP, especially in Winnipeg where most legislature seats are.
"I think folks in Winnipeg have been disappointed with some of the decisions … certainly under the previous premier," Bergen said.
"So I think that as they continue to get to know Heather and understand the kind of woman she is, the kind of leadership that she brings … I think we can earn that support."
Bergen managed the Manitoba campaign for the federal Conservatives under Stephen Harper in 2004. She was elected to the Commons in 2008, and served as interim Conservative leader after Erin O'Toole was ousted by caucus members in February of last year.
She helped heal divisions within the federal party, partly by withdrawing O'Toole's support for carbon pricing. Stefanson has opposed the "backstop" carbon price that the federal government has imposed on Manitoba and some other provinces that have not implemented their own system.
Bergen's time in Parliament was not without controversy.
Bergen accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of dividing the country by pushing for COVID-19 vaccine mandates, saying in one of her first remarks as interim leader that he needed to extend an "olive branch" to demonstrators.
As the protest against COVID-19 measures and the federal government dragged on, however, she delivered an address in the House in which she asked those refusing to budge to move their vehicles.
In 2021, a photo was circulated on social media that showed Bergen wearing a hat with the "Make America Great Again" slogan used by former United States president Donald Trump.
Bergen said Thursday the hat was not hers, and she put it on while at a restaurant in her constituency five years ago.
"Somebody asked me 'hey put it on and let's get a picture,'" Bergen said.
"Knowing what I know now about what that means, I certainly would never have put it on and I wish I hadn't because it doesn't in any way represent me or what I believe or the way I live my life."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 30, 2023
Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press