Bezan stays on as defence critic

Winnipeg Free Press - - NEWS - DY­LAN ROBERT­SON dy­lan.robert­son@freep­ress.mb.ca

OT­TAWA — The fed­eral Tories have kept Selkirk-area MP James Bezan as defence critic, but dropped Dauphinarea MP Robert Sop­uck from their shadow cab­i­net.

Bezan will con­tinue keep­ing an eye on Ot­tawa’s mil­i­tary plans, a role he’s held since the 2015 elec­tion. Un­der the for­mer Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment, he was par­lia­men­tary sec­re­tary to the defence min­is­ter.

The Lib­er­als un­veiled their defence pri­or­i­ties in June, and Bezan says his top con­cern will be watch­ing to see whether the gov­ern­ment ponies up enough fund­ing for their am­bi­tions, from hu­man-re­source sup­port to equip­ment.

“They have punted all those in­vest­ments down the road un­til after the next elec­tion,” Bezan said.

In April, Defence Min­is­ter Har­jit Sa­j­jan came un­der fire for claim­ing he was “the ar­chi­tect” of an Afghanistan mil­i­tary op­er­a­tion that he’d helped oth­ers co-or­di­nate. Bezan was among the Tories call­ing on the Lib­er­als to de­mote Sa­j­jan, who kept his post in this Mon­day’s Lib­eral cab­i­net shuf­fle.

“He def­i­nitely has lost cred­i­bil­ity in the eyes of Cana­di­ans, es­pe­cially those who serve,” Bezan said, though he said he’s now fo­cused on Sa­j­jan’s poli­cies, like an un­ful­filled pledge to join a United Na­tions peace­keep­ing mis­sion.

Bezan, who has Ukrainian roots, held a key role in co-or­di­nat­ing Canada’s re­sponse to Rus­sia’s 2014 in­va­sion of Ukraine. Next month he heads to Latvia to visit re­cently ar­rived Cana­dian troops, who are fac­ing the prospect of another Rus­sian in­va­sion.

Mean­while, Sop­uck has lost his job as critic for wildlife con­ser­va­tion and Parks Canada, a role the party has axed. Sop­uck, a for­mer fish­eries bi­ol­o­gist, pre­vi­ously wrote the out­doors col­umn for the Free Press.

The Tories did not re­spond to a re­quest ask­ing to ex­plain the change.

In July, new party leader An­drew Scheer chose to keep Portage-Lis­gar MP Candice Bergen as the party’s House leader, putting her in his in­ner cir­cle. The job in­volves ne­go­ti­at­ing with the Lib­er­als over sched­ul­ing de­bates and tak­ing them to task over con­tro­ver­sial pro­pos­als.

Man­i­toba’s two re­main­ing MPs, Provencher MP Ted Falk and Bran­donSouris MP Larry Maguire, will not hold shadow cab­i­net roles un­der Scheer.

After los­ing six Man­i­toba seats, the Con­ser­va­tives see the prov­ince as a key bat­tle­ground in the fall 2019 elec­tion. Bezan said the party will fo­cus this fall on Man­i­toba issues like asy­lum-seek­ers cross­ing ir­reg­u­larly near Emer­son.

A month ago, Scheer chose Win­nipeg for the party’s pre-par­lia­men­tary cau­cus meet­ing. On Sept. 7 to 8, as many as 98 MPs and 38 sen­a­tors, as well as their spouses and chil­dren, will de­scend on the city to talk strat­egy, while many plan to knock on doors and hear how Man­i­to­bans feel about fed­eral issues.

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SEAN KILPATRICK / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

James Bezan has been the defence critic for the fed­eral Tories since 2015, a role that won’t change un­der new party leader An­drew Scheer.

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