Bernier quits Con­ser­va­tives to start new party

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - Mia raBson and Jan­iCe diCk­son

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.

ADRIAN WYLD / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Former lead­er­ship hope­ful Maxime Bernier shocked the Con­ser­va­tive es­tab­lish­ment Thurs­day, an­nounc­ing he will leave to start his own party.

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