Bernier quits Conservatives to start new party
Renegade Conservative MP Maxime Bernier declared open war on his own party Thursday, abruptly quitting the Tory caucus, announcing nascent plans for a new political movement and deriding his former leader and colleagues as “intellectually and morally corrupt.”
With Conservative caucus members gathering in Halifax for a policy convention that was expected to bring the Bernier boil to a head, the controversial Quebec MP stayed behind instead, hosting a snap news conference that proved breathtaking in its defiance.
“I am no longer a Conservative,” Bernier declared after reading a scathing diatribe against his party and its leader, Andrew Scheer — the Saskatchewan MP who narrowly edged Bernier out of the leadership job last year in a loss some have suggested he never got over.
“I am now convinced that what we will get if Andrew Scheer becomes prime minister is just a more moderate version of the disastrous Trudeau government,” he said.
“I have come to realize over the past year that this party is too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed.”
The shock of Bernier’s rebellion was still reverberating on Parliament Hill when Scheer emerged in Halifax to return fire, accusing his former leadership rival of putting his own “personal profile” ahead of the goals of the party.
“It’s obvious that this has been coming for a long time, and in retrospect he probably made this decision to help Justin Trudeau a long time ago,” Scheer said.
“I always challenged him to put personal ambition aside and to concentrate on the common ground that all Conservatives can rally around ... I always challenged him to work together as a team, as he claimed that he would.”
Bernier said he plans to contact Elections Canada about the path toward creating a new party and will spend the next several weeks travelling the country to meet with people interested in joining his cause.
He accused Scheer of being too focused on polls and focus groups, and afraid of being attacked by people on the left and in the media, to come up with policies that adhere to bedrock Conservative principles.
‘TOO ... CORRUPT TO BE REFORMED’: EX-MINISTER QUITS TORY CAUCUS, PLANS NEW PARTY
Bernier rattled off a laundry list of grievances:
Scheer’s support for Trudeau’s decision to impose retaliatory tariffs against the United States;
The Conservative party’s ongoing support for supply management, the system that regulates the price of Canadian milk, eggs and poultry and a major sticking point in NAFTA talks;
The reinstatement of regional ministers to lead development agencies.
Bernier’s decision to drop his bombshell with Conservatives gathering in Nova Scotia for a policy convention was no coincidence; he wanted to make a big splash, said one source close to the MP who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Conservative caucus members likely knew something was up, since Bernier had stopped taking their calls in the days leading up to Thursday’s announcement, the source said.
Bernier said the last Conservative member he spoke to was Scheer himself — an Aug. 14 conversation that prompted his decision to leave the party, after the Tory leader issued a statement denouncing Bernier’s recent tweets about the perils of “too much diversity.”
“We had a very polite discussion,” Bernier said. “After that discussion, I realized that I don’t have any place in that party anymore.
“It does not represent them anymore. And it has nothing of substance to offer Canadians looking for a political alternative.”
In a series of tweets about diversity almost two weeks ago, Bernier said, “Having people live among us who reject basic Western values such as freedom, equality, tolerance and openness doesn’t make us strong. People who refuse to integrate into our society and want to live apart in their ghetto don’t make our society strong.”
The news of Bernier quitting prompted a torrent of Conservative reaction on Twitter and elsewhere, with the prevailing sentiment a show of solidarity with the party and its leader.
“It’s clear that Max never accepted the result of the leadership vote and seeks only to divide Conservatives,” wrote former prime minister Stephen Harper.
How any new right-ofcentre party will impact the political scene in Canada depends a lot on how much money Bernier can raise and how many Tory supporters and donors he takes with him. It also depends on how many candidates he recruits.
Steven Fletcher, a Bernier supporter and former Conservative cabinet minister who was recently denied the chance to run for the party again in the next election, said he thinks Bernier won’t have trouble getting a following.
“There are a lot of people that will support Bernier,” and not just in Quebec, Fletcher said.
Former leadership hopeful Maxime Bernier shocked the Conservative establishment Thursday, announcing he will leave to start his own party.