Conservative MP Maxime Bernier isn't ruling out another run for party leadership and says he wants to play the crucial role of finance critic in leader Andrew Scheer's shadow cabinet.
Mr. Bernier, the libertarian leadership front-runner who finished second in the May contest with 49.05-per-cent support to Mr. Scheer's 50.95 per cent, is making his expectations explicit as Mr. Scheer decides which MPs will hold major posts in his caucus before Parliament resumes in mid-September.
"I hope that I can be the finance critic. That will be an interesting role for me and an important role. I'm ready to take that challenge," Mr. Bernier said in an interview on Thursday.
Mr. Bernier also suggested he might run again for leader – a bold admission that puts added pressure on Mr. Scheer to beat Justin Trudeau's Liberals in the next election, slated for October, 2019. It's also a sign that Mr. Bernier and his supporters will be ready to pounce if Mr. Scheer performs poorly.
"We don't know what will be the future. But, you know, Brian Mulroney was the leader of the party when he tried a second time," Mr. Bernier said, referring to the former prime minister who came third in the Progressive Conservative leadership race in 1976, before beating Joe Clark in 1983.
"For the first time, for me, at 49 per cent, I did very well," Mr. Bernier added.
The Quebec MP, who has represented the riding of Beauce since 2006, said he's spent the summer calling volunteers from across the country and many have urged him to continue his political career. "Everybody is telling me, 'Maxime you represent half of the party. And you must stay,'" Mr. Bernier said.
"Maybe [one] day I will have another opportunity and we'll see what will happen. But for now, I want to be sure to work with the team and … be a government in 2019."
Mr. Bernier said Mr. Scheer made a "good choice" last week when he named fellow leadership hopeful Lisa Raitt as the party's deputy leader.
"I'm happy for her and I'm happy for the party also. I think she'll be very effective," Mr. Bernier said.
When asked last week what roles Mr. Bernier and social conservative candidate Brad Trost will play in caucus, Mr. Scheer said he wasn't ready to announce his shadow cabinet.
"One of the most difficult decisions for someone who finds himself in my position is almost an embarrassment of riches when it comes to what a great team we have," Mr. Scheer told reporters.
If he were finance critic, Mr. Bernier – a former vice-president at a major insurance company – said he would focus on areas that he and Mr. Scheer agree on: balancing the budget and ending "corporate welfare" subsidies for businesses.
But he said he won't challenge Mr. Scheer on the key issue that separated them during the campaign, especially in Quebec: supply management, the system that regulates prices on dairy, eggs and poultry in Canada.
Mr. Bernier was the only candidate to advocate for ending supply management – a position that hurt him tremendously in his native province, but which Mr. Bernier also said made him an "authentic" candidate.
"My leader – and every other candidate, I must admit – wants to keep the cartel," Mr. Bernier said.
"If you're asking me personally if I'm changing ideas, no, I still believe that my policy was the best policy for Canadian consumers. But I won't fight against my leader to bring that policy back."
Mr. Bernier remains unapologetic about his campaign, which focused on the broad themes of individual freedom, personal responsibility, respect and fairness. His policies included large-scale tax cuts for individuals and corporations, withdrawing the federal government from any role in health care, and dismantling the CBC and CRTC.
"It was the first time that somebody did a campaign based on principles without doing any compromise with special interest groups, without trying to buy votes," Mr. Bernier said.
When asked what went wrong, Mr. Bernier said perhaps not all of his supporters voted, but acknowledges a majority of members "were not ready for big reform."
"We did a good campaign. And I'll do the same thing if we have to do a campaign again," he said.
In the days following the race, some of Mr. Bernier's followers anonymously questioned the legitimacy of Mr. Scheer's victory, alleging a substantial discrepancy in the final vote count. The Conservative Party, however, stood by the results and said the discrepancy was the result of various data entry issues. The ballots were destroyed immediately after the contentious vote.
Mr. Bernier said he is satisfied with the party's answers and chalked up the drama to hurt feelings.
"A lot of our people were mad after the result, were a little bit upset. They were working hard for the last 14 months," he said. "The party answered that question, and I think they did well. They had to do it."