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Excerpt: MP Maxime Bernier details impact of supply-management lobby on Tory leadership bid

Editor’s Note: On Wednesday, Tory MP Maxime Bernier said he was “indefinitely” postponing the publication of his book, Doing Politics Differently: My Vision for Canada. Written in collaboration with Martin Masse, it was set to be published by Optimum Publishing International on Nov. 1, 2018. The following is an excerpt from Chapter 5, “Live or Die with Supply Management.” It was provided to The Globe and Mail by Mr. Bernier’s publisher last week.

During the final months of the campaign, as polls indicated that I had a real chance of becoming the next leader, opposition from the supply management lobby gathered speed. Radio-Canada reported on dairy farmers who were busy selling Conservative Party memberships across Quebec.[1] A Facebook page called Les amis de la gestion de l’offre et des régions [Friends of supply management and rural regions] was set up and had gathered more than 10,500 members by early May. As members started receiving their ballots by mail from the party, its creator, Jacques Roy, asked them to vote for Andrew Scheer.[2]

Andrew, along with several other candidates, was then busy touring Quebec’s agricultural belt, including my own riding of Beauce, to pick up support from these fake Conservatives, only interested in blocking my candidacy and protecting their privileges. Interestingly, one year later, most of them have not renewed their memberships and are not members of the party anymore. During these last months of the campaign, the number of members in Quebec had increased considerably, from about 6,000 to more than 16,000. In April 2018, according to my estimates, we are down to about 6,000 again.

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A few days after the vote, Éric Grenier, a political analyst at the CBC, calculated that if only 66 voters in a few key ridings had voted differently, I could have won.[3] The points system, by which every riding in the country represented 100 points regardless of the number of members they had, gave outsized importance in the vote to a handful of ridings with few members. Of course, a lot more than 66 supply management farmers voted, likely thousands of them in Quebec, Ontario, and the other provinces. I even lost my riding of Beauce by 51% to 49%, the same proportion as the national vote.

At the annual press gallery dinner in Ottawa a few days after the vote, a gala where personalities make fun of political events of the past year, Andrew was said to have gotten the most laughs when he declared “I certainly don’t owe my leadership victory to anybody…”, stopping in mid-sentence to take a swig of 2% milk from the carton. “It’s a high quality drink and it’s affordable too.”[4] Of course, it was so funny because everybody in the room knew that was precisely why he got elected. He did what he thought he had to do to get the most votes, and that is fair game in a democratic system. But this also helps explain why so many people are so cynical about politics, and with good reason.

After the vote, I told Andrew I would keep quiet on this issue. There was no point in continuing to fight, and in so doing foment disunity within the party and show disrespect to the new leader. The party had chosen someone who supported supply management. Once again, I had no legitimacy to question its democratic decision. But I will never again say the opposite of what I believe in and pretend this is a good system just for the sake of party unity. A substantial portion of the party is behind me on this. And the next time an opportunity presents itself to debate it, I will resume my fight.

[1] Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair, “La mobilisation des agriculteurs québécois coûtera-t-elle la victoire à Maxime Bernier?” Radio-Canada, March 8, 2017.

[2] Raphaël Bouvier-Auclair, “Gestion de l’offre : l’initiateur du mouvement contre Bernier appelle à voter Scheer,” Radio-Canada, May 4, 2017.

[3] Éric Grenier, “How 66 voters could have cost Maxime Bernier the Conservative leadership,” CBC News, June 1, 2017.

[4] Janice Dickson, “Who’s laughing now? The top ten funny stories in Canadian politics, 2017,” iPolitics, Dec. 27, 2017.

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