PMO staff say Bergen privately acknowledged concerns about interacting with protesters

David Fraser and Stephanie Taylor, Canadian Press

Posted Thursday, November 24, 2022 9:21 pm EST

OTTAWA – Staff at the Prime Minister’s Office are suggesting that former Conservative interim leader Candice Bergen privately acknowledged her concerns about engaging with the “Freedom Convoy” protesters last winter while publicly urging the prime minister to listen to them, something Bergen denies.

A summary of interviews with top advisers to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was released Thursday by the public inquiry investigating the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergency Act on February 14.

The document says Trudeau’s chief of staff, Katie Telford, asked if Bergen could help and the two leaders discussed reaching out to protesters in a February 3 phone call.

“Millisecond. Telford added that during the call, Ms. Bergen acknowledged that there were significant concerns about who the federal government could engage with and set a bad precedent,” the summary reads.

The conversation occurred on Bergen’s first day on the job, when he publicly challenged the Trudeau government in the House of Commons for failing to offer an “olive branch” to protesters.

During question period, he charged that the prime minister needed to come up with a plan to make protesters “feel like they’ve been heard.” Instead, he told lawmakers, Trudeau was “threatening Canadians with more vaccine mandates.”

For his part, Bergen said Thursday that he had a different memory of that Feb. 3 call with Trudeau. She said that the prime minister called her to congratulate her on becoming her leader and that they discussed a number of things.

“I asked him if he would consider reaching out and extending an olive branch to the people who had come to Ottawa,” Bergen wrote in an email. “He said he didn’t want to set a precedent by talking to protesters that way.”

During the protests, as the party discussed how to respond to the protest, Bergen told some senior Conservatives in an email: “I don’t think we should ask you to go home.” change soon. So we have to make this (the prime minister’s) problem. What will be (like) the first step to work to end this?” A screenshot of the email, which has the subject line “Statement for comment”, was obtained by The Canadian Press during the protests and was first reported by The Globe and Post. The Canadian Press has not seen the rest of the email chain.

Telford told the commission Thursday that federal officials considered possible engagement with protesters more than once as a possible option to end the lockout, but ultimately that option met with little support across government.

“There were too many unanswered questions,” he said.

“There was no clarity in terms of who the discussion would be with on each side of the discussion, and what the discussion would be about and what it might result in.”

Trudeau’s senior staff appeared on the penultimate day of public hearings held by the commission, which is investigating the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies Act in response to protests that paralyzed downtown Ottawa and blocked the border between Canada and the United States.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 24, 2022.

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