Chan­tal Hébert

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION -

Ab­sent Monday’s fed­eral by­elec­tion in the Que­bec rid­ing of Chicoutimi-Le Fjord, Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer might not have so ex­pe­di­tiously booted his for­mer ri­val Maxime Bernier from his shadow cab­i­net. Still it was prob­a­bly only a mat­ter of time be­fore last year’s lead­er­ship run­ner-up found him­self out in the cold.

On Tuesday, Bernier lost his role as of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion in­no­va­tion critic over what cau­cus in­sid­ers char­ac­ter­ize as a breach of his prom­ise to de­sist from pub­licly chal­leng­ing party pol­icy by pur­su­ing the elim­i­na­tion of Canada’s sup­ply man­age­ment sys­tem.

Bernier is said to have bro­ken his word by up­load­ing to his per­sonal web­site the sup­ply man­age­ment chap­ter of a fu­ture book on his po­lit­i­cal vi­sion, and by stay­ing out of the House of Com­mons rather than show­ing unan­i­mous sup­port for a mo­tion of sup­port for the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment in the nascent tar­iff bat­tle with the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

The chap­ter was con­tentious not be­cause it re­it­er­ates Bernier’s long­stand­ing op­po­si­tion to the sys­tem that shel­ters Canada’s poul­try and dairy in­dus­tries from for­eign com­pe­ti­tion but be­cause it as­serts that Scheer owes his lead­er­ship po­si­tion to “fake” Con­ser­va­tive mem­bers drawn from the ranks of the Que­bec dairy lobby.

Af­ter its ini­tial pub­li­ca­tion em­bar­rassed Scheer ear­lier this spring, Bernier said he was putting the book pro­ject on ice. But the con­tentious chap­ter resur­faced on his web­site in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of the im­po­si­tion by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion of tar­iffs on Cana­dian steel and alu­minum. The White House has since framed those ac­tions as mea­sures de­signed to put pres­sure on Canada to aban­don its pro­tec­tion­ist dairy poli­cies.

Bernier’s tim­ing could not have been worse.

He may have be­lieved the Amer­i­can tar­iffs of­fered him an op­por­tu­nity to ad­vance his con­tention that larger Cana­dian in­ter­ests are be­ing sac­ri­ficed on the al­tar of the sa­cred cow of the sup­ply man­age­ment sys­tem.

But in the cur­rent de­te­ri­o­rat­ing Canada/U.S. cli­mate, us­ing Trump’s bul­ly­ing moves to val­i­date his point could not but amount to a poor way to win more vot­ers to his argument.

What­ever the in­ten­tion, it also looked like a shot across the Con­ser­va­tive bow in the im­mi­nent Chicoutimi-Le Fjord by­elec­tion.

Scheer has high hopes for Monday’s vote. Party strate­gists see the by­elec­tion as a dry run for next year’s gen­eral cam­paign in Que­bec.

A four-way split in the vote al­lowed the Lib­er­als to nar­rowly win the seat from the NDP in 2015. But since then New Demo­crat and BQ for­tunes have de­clined pre­cip­i­tously. In a oneon-one bat­tle with the Lib­er­als in Que­bec, the Con­ser­va­tives be­lieve they can de­prive Trudeau of gains in his home prov­ince next year and in the process deny him a sec­ond term in gov­ern­ment.

In the lead-up to the by­elec­tion, the Con­ser­va­tive party has con­sis­tently played up Scheer’s pro-sup­ply man­age­ment cre­den­tials. It must have struck a Lib­eral nerve, for Trudeau ended up stop­ping in the rid­ing on the way to the G7 just to re­assert his own de­ter­mi­na­tion to de­fend the sys­tem against all com­ers at the NAFTA ta­ble.

With less than a week to go to the by­elec­tion, a lo­cal poll pub­lished on Wednesday showed the Con­ser­va­tives with a strong lead on the Lib­er­als. Un­der that light, Bernier’s de­ci­sion to once again high­light his dis­sent could only too eas­ily be con­strued by many of his cau­cus col­leagues as a de­lib­er­ate act of sab­o­tage.

Sec­ond only to the min­is­te­rial obli­ga­tion to cab­i­net sol­i­dar­ity is that of of­fi­cial op­po­si­tion crit­ics to their party’s core poli­cies.

Sup­port for sup­ply man­age­ment is as in­trin­sic to Scheer’s lead­er­ship as the Con­ser­va­tive op­po­si­tion to car­bon pric­ing. Like it or not the ship on both poli­cies sailed at the time of last year’s CPC vote.

No one should nec­es­sar­ily count on many of Bernier’s col­leagues to in­ter­cede in his favour.

He is as pop­u­lar within the lib­er­tar­ian ranks of the party as he is un­pop­u­lar among his Que­bec col­leagues. They would be happy enough to see the last of him in the House of Com­mons.

If, as all those who know him as­sume, Bernier still har­bours na­tional lead­er­ship am­bi­tions, he should prob­a­bly grant his cau­cus crit­ics their wish by steal­ing a page from the hand­books of John Turner, Jean Chré­tien and Stephen Harper and wait­ing for the next lead­er­ship op­por­tu­nity from out­side Par­lia­ment.

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