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Bergen says she will work to 'strengthen' conservative movement as interim leader

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Candice Bergen says she is focused squarely on strengthening the conservative movement as the newly elected interim Conservative Party leader.

Bergen was named interim leader late Wednesday night following the ousting of Erin O’Toole earlier in the day at the party’s caucus meeting.

“I’m ready, and so is our caucus. Over the next few months, my colleagues and I will be listening and acting. My goal as Interim Leader is to strengthen our movement and leave the next leader with a party that’s ready to win,” she said in her first official statement as interim leader.

“As we move forward, it’s important that Conservatives come together from coast-to-coast-to-coast to focus on Justin Trudeau’s cost of living crisis, his divisive approach that is threatening our national unity, and his repeated ethical scandals.”

The Manitoba MP sat as deputy leader under O’Toole, as Minister of State for Social Development under prime minister Stephen Harper and as Opposition House leader under previous interim leader Rona Ambrose.

Bergen beat out eight other candidates seeking the title.

She thanked O’Toole and his wife Rebecca, and his children Mollie and Jack for their service to the party and the country.

“The professionalism and dedication that Erin brought to the job is something that I will continue as Leader of the Conservative Party. I would also like to thank my colleagues for putting their trust in me to lead the Conservative Party. I will work hard every day to earn that trust,” she said.

Bergen’s colleagues reflected on her win and the fate of the party heading into the House of Commons on Thursday.

“I’m very pleased with the election of Candice Bergen as interim leader. She brings a great deal of experience, she’s widely respected within caucus, she’s served on leadership teams of all of the three leaders I’ve served under, so I think we’re going regroup and unite and work hard to hold Justin Trudeau to account,” said Alberta MP Michael Cooper.

Ontario MP John Brassard echoed Cooper's sentiment about the work ahead.

“Obviously there’s a lot of fear and anxiety in this country, a lot of divisiveness, so we’re going to work hard to make sure that we unite Canadians, and I’m sure Candice will do that within the party,” he said.

Bergen received a standing ovation from her team at the start of question period on Thursday, before directing a series of pointed questions at the government.

She took the opportunity to ask how the Liberals plan to resolve the ongoing trucker protests outside Parliament Hill.

“Where is the olive branch, because Canadians are looking for an olive branch…The government doesn't have to agree. They don't have to even like the protesters and the trucks that are parked outside but they need to provide a solution. So could they please tell Canadians what the solution is to get past this impasse?” she asked.

Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland instead cited the need to speak out against racist and hate-fuelled symbols and the movements that tolerate them.

Speculation is mounting already about who will put their name in the hat to become the permanent leader of the official opposition.

Ontario MP Pierre Poilievre, the party’s finance critic, is being dubbed a front runner, as is Alberta MP Michelle Rempel Garner, who currently sits as the natural resources critic.

Outside the elected, there are whispers that Peter MacKay, a former cabinet minister and candidate in the last leadership race, will join back in.

As for Ambrose, a statement issued Wednesday reads “My heart says yes but my head says no. I’m not going to go back at this juncture in my life. Our kids are at the age where they need us and I am enjoying being in business.”

Party president Robert Batherson told CTV News the timeline of an upcoming leadership race is still unknown at this point.

“Step one, National Council has to appoint a leadership election organizing committee – it’s that committee that drafts the rules and procedures for a vote. My hope is that we can start the process of getting that committee in place, hopefully within the next 24 to 48 hours,” he said on Thursday.

This will be the third leadership race for the party since 2017.

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