Bernier departure stirs Tory debate
EDMONTON Quebec MP Maxime Bernier’s decision to quit the federal Tories is nothing more than an “ego outburst” and doesn’t signal divisions within the party, said Alberta United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney.
“It looks a lot more to me like sour grapes over the leadership election,” Kenney told reporters in Halifax Thursday, vehemently defending federal leader Andrew Scheer.
Just hours earlier, Bernier slammed the Conservative Party as “too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed” and argued it had abandoned its members. Bernier, who narrowly lost the leadership to Scheer, told an Ottawa news conference he was quitting the party to start his own political movement.
“It does not represent them anymore. And it has nothing of substance to offer Canadians looking for a political alternative,” he said.
The party abandoned its true ideals by refusing to end corporate subsidies or abolish the supply management system for poultry and dairy products, he added.
Kenney fired back, defending Scheer as “one of the most principled and decent men I’ve ever known.”
He also denied that Bernier’s exit could split votes in 2019.
“I think (Scheer) has the overwhelming support of this party,” Kenney said. “With the exception of Max’s ego outburst today, I’ve never seen this party more united in Opposition.”
The former federal cabinet minister, who referred to politics as a team sport, said Bernier should have articulated his views to caucus and respected the consensus.
“That’s what he did in our government,” Kenney said. “Essentially what Max is saying is if he doesn’t get his way on every issue he’s not going to be part of the team.”
Several members of Kenney’s caucus backed Bernier in his 2017 leadership bid. They included former Wildrose MLAs Leela Aheer, Jason Nixon, Angela Pitt, Derek Fildebrandt, Scott Cyr, Wes Taylor and Rick Strankman, along with former PC MLA Mike Ellis.
Essentially what Max is saying is if he doesn’t get his way on every issue he’s not going to be part of the team.
The MLAs now sit under the merged UCP banner, except for Fildebrandt who left the caucus last year amid a string of controversies and a tense relationship with Kenney. He recently started the Freedom Conservative Party.
Former prime minister Stephen Harper also weighed in on the news Thursday, tweeting that Bernier “never accepted the result of the leadership vote and seeks only to divide Conservatives.”
Bernier’s decision comes just as the Conservative policy convention is getting underway in Halifax and follows months of turmoil — much of it fomented on Twitter — between himself, Scheer and many Conservative MPs who felt he was jeopardizing their chances in the next federal election.
Bernier’s insistence on ending supply management, in defiance of Conservative policy, and his recent reflections about the perils of “extreme multiculturalism” spurred Scheer to distance himself from Bernier and his comments.
Bernier has said he believes immigration in Canada is at “too high a level,” and is in danger of becoming a “burden” to Canadians instead of an economic boon.