Calgary Herald - - NEWS - MarIe-DanIelle sMIth Na­tional Post md­[email protected]­

There was nei­ther a sense of panic nor im­pend­ing doom among Con­ser­va­tives in the hours af­ter Maxime Bernier burned bridges with his party and an­nounced he would form his own.

The mood at the Hal­i­fax Con­ven­tion Cen­tre where the rank-and-file had gath­ered for a pol­icy con­ven­tion seemed more an­gry than tense. Rolling their eyes, del­e­gates ex­changed sar­cas­tic re­marks with one an­other about how Bernier hadn’t shown his face. “What an a-hole,” one person was heard to say. An­other re­marked that he lacked “co­jones.”

Bernier didn’t go to Hal­i­fax, hold­ing an Ot­tawa press con­fer­ence Thurs­day to an­nounce he was no longer a Con­ser­va­tive. He ac­cused the party of be­ing “too in­tel­lec­tu­ally and morally cor­rupt to be re­formed,” cit­ing his views on end­ing sup­ply man­age­ment and cor­po­rate wel­fare.

No high-pro­file con­ser­va­tive in the coun­try fell into line be­hind him, but there was a clear de­sire to send a mes­sage of sol­i­dar­ity for leader An­drew Scheer — as Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said on so­cial me­dia, Cana­dian con­ser­va­tives can point to a plethora of re­cent ex­am­ples show­ing why it’s elec­torally bet­ter to stay united.

In Hal­i­fax, Scheer framed Bernier’s choice as “help” for Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau. “In ret­ro­spect,” he said, “it is clear that Maxime made this de­ci­sion a long time ago.”

He “is more in­ter­ested in ad­vanc­ing his per­sonal pro­file than ad­vanc­ing Con­ser­va­tive prin­ci­ples,” said Scheer.

“He has de­cided that he is more im­por­tant than his Con­ser­va­tive col­leagues and in­deed the Con­ser­va­tive party.”

Dur­ing the open­ing cer­e­monies of the pol­icy con­ven­tion on Thurs­day evening, the crowd gave Scheer a stand­ing ova­tion.

Bernier had nar­rowly lost the Con­ser­va­tive lead­er­ship elec­tion to Scheer in May 2017, de­spite earn­ing fron­trun­ner sta­tus with sup­port from the party’s lib­er­tar­i­an­lean­ing mem­bers and from a con­tin­gent of new fans. In the days lead­ing up to the lead­er­ship vote, Bernier and his team had seemed to take his vic­tory for granted.

“It is clear that Max never ac­cepted the re­sult of the lead­er­ship vote and seeks only to di­vide Con­ser­va­tives,” former prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper said on Twit­ter.

Stock­well Day, in an in­ter­view on CBC, said, “When you have some­thing as frac­tious as this hap­pen­ing, the real noise, that pop­ping sound, is prob­a­bly cham­pagne corks at Mr. Trudeau’s house right now.”

Lib­eral rep­re­sen­ta­tives at­tend­ing the con­ven­tion as ob­servers were keen to speak with as many jour­nal­ists as pos­si­ble, of­fer­ing their per­spec­tive on the “di­vi­sive pol­i­tics” of both Bernier and the party he has left.

But among del­e­gates at the con­ven­tion cen­tre, few seemed to take Bernier all that se­ri­ously — least of all Ja­son Ken­ney, who has just suc­cess­fully run sev­eral cam­paigns to unite con­ser­va­tive fac­tions in Al­berta.

“This is more about his ego than the party,” the United Con­ser­va­tive Party leader said of Bernier, not­ing that when they served to­gether in Harper’s cab­i­net, the Beauce, Que., MP was al­ways happy to toe the party line even if he had lost pol­icy ar­gu­ments in cab­i­net. “Max has done that for over a decade in pol­i­tics, un­til he lost the lead­er­ship.”

Bernier put him­self on the mar­gins of the party and failed to gather much sup­port even from his col­leagues in Que­bec, Ken­ney said. “If he couldn’t even per­suade his clos­est col­leagues to sup­port his pol­icy di­rec­tion, then how could he ex­pect to form a new party? I don’t think it’s se­ri­ous. I think it’s a joke.”

Con­ser­va­tive MP James Bezan agreed. “You know, if you ac­tu­ally sit down and talk to the man, you see that other than putting on a nice suit there’s not much there. So his abil­ity to lead a new party is, I think, slim and none,” he said.

Bezan posited that Bernier doesn’t even come up with his own poli­cies — that it’s his “han­dlers” who do that for him. He said Bernier never con­sulted other MPs on his ideas, and never stood up to the mi­cro­phone dur­ing cau­cus meet­ings, “ex­cept if he wants to apol­o­gize for some­thing that he’s al­ready said or tweeted about.”

If the man was se­ri­ous then he would’ve shown up in Hal­i­fax, “fight­ing for the poli­cies he be­lieves in,” Bezan said.


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