Bernier de­par­ture stirs Tory de­bate

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - CLARE CLANCY

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.

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