Bernier de­mo­tion a test of Scheer’s lead­er­ship

Times Colonist - - Canada / World - MIA RAB­SON

OT­TAWA — An­drew Scheer is fac­ing a test of his lead­er­ship af­ter toss­ing one-time lead­er­ship ri­val Maxime Bernier from the Con­ser­va­tive shadow cab­i­net for break­ing a prom­ise to stop pro­mot­ing his con­tro­ver­sial po­lit­i­cal man­i­festo.

Bernier de­nies he did any­thing wrong and some of his sup­port­ers are even urg­ing him to break away from the Tories and start his own lib­er­tar­ian party.

Bernier has said very lit­tle since Scheer fired him as the party’s in­no­va­tion critic Tues­day night, but he did take to Twit­ter to sug­gest he didn’t un­der­stand why he lost his port­fo­lio.

“I just want to clar­ify one thing at this time,” he wrote. “The chap­ter on [sup­ply man­age­ment] posted on my web­site is THE SAME that was pub­licly avail­able for weeks on my pub­lisher’s web­site but was taken down when I de­cided to post­pone the book in­def­i­nitely. There is noth­ing new, I did not ‘pub­lish’ it.”

The chap­ter was orig­i­nally pub­lished in April to mar­ket Bernier’s forth­com­ing book on his po­lit­i­cal vi­sion for Canada. In it, he took pot­shots at Scheer for pan­der­ing to dairy farm­ers in Que­bec, ac­cus­ing him of sign­ing up “fake Con­ser­va­tives” in the lead­er­ship race to pre­vent Bernier, and his anti-sup­ply man­age­ment pol­icy, from win­ning.

Af­ter Scheer and cau­cus col­leagues ex­pressed their dis­ap­point­ment, Bernier promised to shelve the book for now and not fur­ther pro­mote it.

He posted the of­fend­ing chap­ter to his own web­site on June 5.

“It’s es­sen­tial when mem­bers of our shadow cab­i­net make a com­mit­ment to cau­cus that those com­mit­ments are kept,” Scheer said Wed­nes­day fol­low­ing the party’s weekly cau­cus meet­ing.

Bernier at­tended that meet­ing but did not come out to speak to re­porters.

Con­ser­va­tive MP Tony Cle­ment, who en­dorsed Bernier dur­ing the 2017 lead­er­ship race, said Bernier’s choice to post the chap­ter was a mis­take and Scheer took a “dif­fi­cult but nec­es­sary” step in fir­ing him as in­no­va­tion critic.

Cle­ment also blamed the me­dia for try­ing to make a big­ger deal of the is­sue than it was.

For­eign af­fairs critic and erst­while lead­er­ship con­tender Erin O’Toole said he was puz­zled by Bernier’s de­ci­sion, but stressed that he re­mains a val­ued mem­ber of the Con­ser­va­tive cau­cus.

“He has a very im­por­tant place in the Con­ser­va­tive move­ment,” said O’Toole.

How­ever, some of Bernier’s sup­port­ers were in­censed and took to so­cial me­dia to call for a re­volt against Scheer and to open a dis­cus­sion about Bernier leav­ing the Con­ser­va­tives to start his own party.

“Could Maxime Bernier be per­suaded to lead a new party to re­in­state pro­gres­sive Lib­er­tar­ian val­ues in­clud­ing eco­nom­ics, busi­ness in­no­va­tion, so­ci­etal in­no­va­tion, Cana­dian Unity, and free speech,” tweeted Steph Sa­gar, a Bernier sup­porter from Toronto.

She called Bernier’s fir­ing “a dis­grace­ful and fool­ish de­ci­sion” and said Scheer had lost her sup­port and her money.

The hash­tag #Is­tand­with­Bernier was rel­a­tively busy with traf­fic in the hours im­me­di­ately af­ter Bernier’s fir­ing, though it had died down by Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon.

An­drew McDougall, once a com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor for former Con­ser­va­tive prime min­is­ter Stephen Harper, wrote in Ma­clean’s that the “sack­ing” of Bernier is a test of Scheer’s abil­ity to keep the party to­gether.

He blamed Scheer for fail­ing to en­sure Bernier was on side as soon as U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump started us­ing sup­ply man­age­ment as his Cana­dian at­tack du jour.

The dilemma for Scheer is that Bernier rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant part of the Con­ser­va­tive tent — lib­er­tar­i­ans, who are par­tic­u­larly preva­lent in ur­ban ar­eas where the Con­ser­va­tives must make gains if they are to win in 2019.

While Scheer and O’Toole earned the lion’s share of cau­cus sup­port dur­ing the lead­er­ship race (31 MPs en­dorsed O’Toole, who fin­ished third, and 24 en­dorsed Scheer), Bernier raised the most money, bring­ing in $2.5 mil­lion, com­pared with $989,000 for Scheer.

Bernier also had the first-bal­lot votes of nearly 30 per cent of Con­ser­va­tive mem­bers and led the way in seven prov­inces and two ter­ri­to­ries. Bernier led Scheer on ev­ery bal­lot but the one that counted, los­ing on the 13th bal­lot by a mar­gin of 50.95 per cent to 49 per cent.

The math of those re­sults sug­gests Scheer made a mis­take in fir­ing Bernier, said one tweeter.

“A move that po­ten­tially alien­ates 49% of the Con­ser­va­tive mem­ber­ship is dan­ger­ous if Scheer is se­ri­ous about win­ning 2019,” said On­tario physi­cian David Ja­cobs. “I would strongly re­con­sider.”

CP

Maxime Bernier, left, says he can’t un­der­stand why Con­ser­va­tive Leader An­drew Scheer ejected him from the party’s shadow cab­i­net. Sheer, in turn, is fac­ing plenty of heat.

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