Andrew Scheer visits Manitoba to praise Tories’ Portage-Lisgar byelection candidate

Former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer visited Manitoba Thursday to bolster his party’s bid to retain Portage-Lisgar, historically one of the safest Conservative seats in Canada.

The 17-year Regina MP spoke to reporters in Winnipeg and is scheduled to hold a meet-and-greet in Portage la Prairie with Conservative candidate Branden Leslie, a former campaign manager for former Portage-Lisgar MP Candice Bergen.

In Winnipeg, Scheer lauded Leslie as a worthy successor to Bergen, who represented Portage-Lisgar from 2008 to until her resignation in February.

“I know Branden is a dedicated believer in individual liberty and a strong, proud Manitoban,” Scheer said at the Hilton  Winnipeg airport hotel. 

A mostly rural riding in southern Manitoba, Portage-Lisgar has only been represented by conservative parties since it was created in 1997 as part of an electoral boundary redistribution.

In the most recent federal election, in 2021, Bergen amassed 53 per cent of the popular vote and defeated her nearest competitor, People’s Party of Canada candidate Solomon Wiebe by more than 14,000 votes.

A man with dark brown hair and blue eyes wears a blue suit and stands in front of a Canadian flag.
Branden Leslie, the Conservative candidate in Portage-Lisgar, is a former campaign manager for Candice Bergen. (Branden Leslie for Portage-Lisgar/Facebook)

In this byelection, however, the PPC candidate is party leader Maxime Bernier, the former Conservative MP and one-time second-place leadership candidate.

Speaking to reporters, Scheer said he spent years serving alongside Bernier in the Conservative caucus and called the Quebecker an opportunist for running in Manitoba.

“Anyone who really knows Max knows what this candidacy is all about: A desperate [plea for] attention from a desperate politician trying to stay relevant and in the limelight,” Scheer said at the Hilton.

“While some people go into politics to serve their communities or their fellow citizen, Maxime has gone into it just to serve himself.”

Scheer went on to claim Bernier never spoke out on any issues until he started the PPC as “a vanity project.”

The Saskatchewan MP also dismissed the idea his presence in Manitoba suggested the Conservatives are concerned about a Bernier victory in Portage-Lisgar.

“Not at all,” Scheer said. “People see that he’s not serious about the issues that he’s talking about, that he’s literally trying to divide conservatives.”

Speaking in Winnipeg earlier this week, Bernier called the Conservative Party soft and described Leslie as “a fake conservative” who refuses to take a hard line on gender identity and climate change.

“He won’t have a debate about important [issues] for the future of this country,” Bernier said Tuesday in Winnipeg outside the Manitoba Law Courts, where he received a $2,008.30 fine for violating provincial public health rules in 2021.

Like Bernier, Leslie denounced public health restrictions put in place during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as vaccine mandates.

Bernier said that does not matter after the fact.

“I was the only national politician, the only one, who spoke against these Draconian measures during that time, when it was happening. And I paid the price,” Bernier said.

Numerous Conservative MPs criticized pandemic public health measures.

The Portage-Lisgar byelection will be held on June 19.

A man with short grey hair and wearing a navy suit and tie speaks outside.
Maxime Bernier called Branden Leslie ‘a fake conservative.’ (Gilbert Rowan/Radio-Canada)