Bezan stays on as defence critic
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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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.