OTTAWA — Manitoba MP Candice Bergen is seriously looking at launching her own bid for the Conservative leadership, a change of heart that comes after three high-profile candidates decided last week not to run.
Bergen had told reporters earlier this month that she wouldn’t be running for leader, in part because she already has a busy job as Opposition House Leader — a particularly important role in a minority parliament where every vote is subject to negotiation.
But after Jean Charest, Rona Ambrose and Pierre Poilievre all announced over the past week that they would not be entering the race, Bergen changed her mind and is gauging support, according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation. The decisions of Ambrose and Poilievre in particular caused Bergen to take another look.
“The field just became very small very quickly,” said the source, who would only speak on condition they weren’t named. “Circumstances have changed.” The source said Bergen has not yet made a final decision.
Bergen told the National Post by phone that she did not want to comment on the matter.
She would face at least one major obstacle if she got in the race: she is not bilingual, and many Conservatives believe their leader must be fluent enough to take part in French-language debates. It would be difficult for Bergen to get her French up to that level quickly.
However, if Bergen entered the race it would give the Conservatives a female candidate from Western Canada with deep experience in the party, including as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government and as a prominent member of the Conservative front bench in opposition.
Bergen, a former financial planner, was Harper’s Manitoba campaign manager when he ran for Conservative leader in 2004. She was first elected as an MP in 2008, representing the largely rural Manitoba riding of Portage-Lisgar, and served as social development minister from 2013 to 2015. She has been Opposition House Leader since 2016, which means she quarterbacks the party’s parliamentary strategy and is frequently up speaking in the House of Commons.
There is already at least one female candidate in the race, as two-term Ontario MP Marilyn Gladu announced earlier this month that she’d hired a campaign manager and is collecting the signatures and money needed to enter.
Alberta MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who also served in Harper’s cabinet, has not ruled out a run. “I don’t know what I’m going to do in the next few days,” Rempel Garner told reporters on Friday when asked if she would be putting her name forward.
Candidates have until Feb. 27 to enter the race, and need an initial $25,000 fee as well as 1,000 signatures of party members from at least seven provinces. They must also fill out a questionnaire and potentially do an interview with the party’s leadership organizing committee. To get onto the final ballot, candidates need a total of $300,000 and 3,000 signatures.
Peter MacKay held his official campaign launch on Saturday, pitching himself as a unity candidate who can expand the party’s voter base. MacKay, widely seen as the race’s front-runner, was the last leader of the Progressive Conservative party before it merged with the Canadian Alliance in 2003 to form the modern Conservative Party. He served in several senior roles in Harper’s cabinet.
Ontario MP Erin O’Toole is launching his campaign in Alberta on Monday, and for the moment appears to be MacKay’s strongest challenger. O’Toole, a former cabinet minister, ran in the 2017 leadership race and finished third out of 14 candidates.
Other declared candidates so far include Richard Decarie, a former Conservative staffer who has the backing of prominent social conservatives, but has generated enormous controversy over an appearance on national TV where he claimed that being gay is a choice. Some Conservatives are calling on the party to disqualify Decarie from running due to his statements.
Rookie Ontario MP Derek Sloan and Alberta businessman Rick Peterson have also said they plan to enter the race. Peterson ran for leader in 2017 and finished 12th.
The party has not yet announced when any official debates will take place. The votes will be tallied on June 27 in Toronto.