Candice Bergen, currently running for re-election as the Conservative Party of Canada’s candidate in the Manitoba riding of Portage — Lisgar, was known for her passion for politics even when she was an executive assistant to several financial advisors at Winnipeg-based Investors Group Inc.
However, Bergen’s interest in politics exceeded simple discussion about the topic with friends, family and co-workers. In fact, she was an active volunteer for the Canadian Alliance party, which would then merged with the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 2003 to form the current Conservative Party of Canada.
“I was the political person in the office,” Bergen says. “[My colleagues] would stop at my desk [and ask me what I thought about different issues] because they knew I was working with this guy named Stephen Harper and volunteering for him in my time off.”
That was in the early 2000s, and Stephen Harper had not yet become Canada’s 22nd prime minister nor had Bergen become a member of Parliament or minister of state for social development, her role in the federal cabinet prior to the federal election being called on Aug. 2.
Instead, Bergen was playing a key role in facilitating client/advisor relationships to the point at which she sometimes had to play mediator between her boss and his clients. She recalls having to comfort a client, who was recently widowed at the time, after an upsetting encounter with an advisor who was a talented financial professional but not good at being “warm and fuzzy.” She successfully explained to the client how the advisor’s financial plan would benefit her and why she should trust him with her money.
“In financial planning, just as in government, it’s not about ‘warm and fuzzy’ [personalities], it’s about who has the ability, the commitment, the capacity to make the tough decisions,” Bergen says.
After five years in the financial services sector, Bergen came to a professional fork in the road in 2004. She had to decide if her interest in the financial services sector would dominate her time, or if she should jump full-time into the political arena.
“I remember thinking, ‘I could do this, I would like to get my licence and become a financial planner’,” Bergen recalls.
However, Bergen was working for an advisor who showed no interest in sharing his book of business with her and so she left the financial services sector and focused on working for the Conservative Party. This included running a few nomination campaigns for various Conservative candidates. Her campaigning experience would serve her well when she ran for political office in 2008, which she won, and again, when she was re-elected in 2011.
However, her political experience has also been helped by key lessons learned through her financial services career. Investors Group emphasized the importance of client/advisor relationships, she says, which helped her in developing strong connections with her constituents.
“I think the only way you can really serve people is when you know them and you know what their needs are,” says Bergen.
Bergen continues to be connected to the financial planning community and says she hears positive feedback about initiatives brought forward under Harper’s Conservative government. These include the registered disability savings plan (RDSP), introduced in 2008, and the tax-free savings account (TFSA), which came into effect in 2009.
In fact, Bergen is baffled at the criticism directed toward the increase in the TFSA’s maximum annual contribution limit to $10,000 from $5,500, which was quickly implemented following this past spring’s federal budget. The Liberal Party of Canada, the New Democratic Party and the Green Party have all stated they would roll that new limit back to its previous level.
“I don’t see how anybody can criticize the TFSA. I see it like a [registered retirement savings plan or RRSP]. Everybody wishes they could put more money into their RRSP and nobody would criticize that as a savings vehicle,” argues Bergen. “The TFSA has that same power and same ability to help people save for their retirement or for other things that they need.”
Although Bergen says her political career does not leave her with much spare time, she makes the most of those moments and spends them with her three grown children and her mother. Her father passed away 19 years ago.
“My dad would be so proud of what I’ve been able to do,” she says.
One part of her pre-political life that has vanished is time to sing.
“I’m actually not a bad singer, so I miss that,” she says. “But this is my life and [my work] is so important.”