Prime Minister’s Office staff suggest that former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen privately acknowledged her concerns about engaging with so-called Freedom Convoy protesters last winter while publicly urging the Prime Minister to listen to them – which Bergen denies.
A summary of interviews with key aides to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has been released by the public inquiry into the federal government’s decision to invoke the Emergencies 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 Feb. 3 phone call.
“Ms. Telford added that during the call, Ms. Bergen acknowledged that there were significant concerns about who the federal government might engage with and set a bad precedent,” the summary reads.
The conversation took place on Bergen’s first day on the job, when she publicly challenged the Trudeau government in the House of Commons for not offering an “olive branch” to protesters.
During Question Period, she accused the Prime Minister of coming up with a plan to make protesters “feel they’ve been listened to”. Instead, she told MPs, Trudeau was “threatening Canadians with more vaccination mandates.”
For her part, Bergen said Thursday she had a different recollection of that Feb. 3 call with Trudeau. She said the prime minister called to congratulate her on becoming chief and 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 addressing protesters in this way.”
The document released by the commission says federal officials considered possible engagement with protesters “more than once as a possible option” to end the blockade.
Ultimately, that option had little support in government, Telford told the commission on Thursday.
“There were too many unanswered questions,” she said.
“There was no clarity as to who the discussion would be with on each side of the discussion, and what the discussion would be about and what it might end up with.”
Senior Trudeau officials 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 have paralyzed the downtown Ottawa and blocked the Canada-US border.