OTTAWA — Manitoba Conservative Candice Bergen is joining the race for interim leadership of the Conservative party.
Bergen, who served in two junior cabinet posts, was first elected to the House of Commons in 2008 and won re-election last week.
She was also the MP responsible for shepherding the bill that ultimately killed the long-gun registry, a point of political pride for her party and an experience she said makes her well-suited for the task of rallying the battered Conservative caucus in its new role as Official Opposition.
She said the bill initially was viewed as something only extreme, right-wing men were behind, but as its champion she was able to change that perception — and her party needs a change now as well.
"Taking that bill through, changing the tone on it, it was a very difficult issue and I was able to communicate it in a reasonable way and garner a lot of support around the country and even within other party caucus members," she said in an interview.
"I'm known to be very tough, but I'm not just fair, I'm reasonable. And I think that's an important quality that I bring."
Also in the running for the job — which comes with an $80,000 pay bump and the Opposition leader's residence at Stornoway — are Erin O'Toole, Rob Nicholson and Diane Finley.
Bergen, who worked as party organizer before she sought election and travelled the country during the recent campaign to help out returning and rookie candidates, said caucus knows she has their back.
"We got the message that it is time for a fresh face but at the same time we need to send a message to Canadians that we are still Conservatives," she said.
"And for those Conservatives who believe in lower taxes, balanced budgets, in being a strong voice on a world stage, this time is still a time for us to send that message."
While Bergen says she only speaks a little French, she's committed to having as a deputy leader someone who is fluent in that language to ensure questions are posed properly.
The Conservatives are expected to choose an interim leader at their first post-election caucus meeting scheduled for next week, though Conservative senators have scheduled their own meeting ahead of that gathering.
Defeated MPs have been invited to the Nov. 5 meeting, though many are in Ottawa this week cleaning out their offices and don't expect to return.
It's unclear at this point whether only members of Parliament will be able to vote or whether senators have a say as well, due to a disconnect between the party's constitution and a new piece of legislation that sets out rules on party issues such as leadership.
Equally unclear is whether Stephen Harper, who resigned as party leader following his defeat last week, will show up for the caucus meeting.
He is still sitting as MP for the riding of Calgary Heritage, but has told some colleagues he intends to keep a low profile.
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