Conservative MP Maxime Bernier says in a new book that party Leader Andrew Scheer won support from “fake Conservatives” set up by the powerful dairy lobby during last year’s federal Tory leadership race – a claim that could threaten party unity 18 months before the next general election.
Mr. Bernier, the four-term Quebec MP who currently serves as the Conservatives’ innovation critic, lost by a razor-thin margin to Mr. Scheer in last May’s leadership contest. A key plank in Mr. Bernier’s leadership bid was to scrap Canada’s supply-management system, which Mr. Scheer supports.
In a chapter of Mr. Bernier’s upcoming book released in advance to The Globe and Mail, the free-market enthusiast chronicles his fervent opposition to the system that regulates prices on dairy, eggs and poultry in Canada − which he likens to a cartel that keeps costs artificially high for consumers.
The book, Doing Politics Differently: My Vision for Canada, was written by Mr. Bernier in collaboration with his long-time policy adviser, Martin Masse. It is being published by Optimum Publishing International, with a release date scheduled for Nov. 1.
Mr. Bernier lost to Mr. Scheer in nearly 30 of the 78 ridings in Quebec on the last ballot, including his own, after he refused to compromise on his agriculture policy.
In his chapter, Mr. Bernier claims the number of Conservative members in Quebec rose during the final months of the campaign from 6,000 to more than 16,000, but has since dwindled back down to 6,000 – suggesting those who bought memberships did not renew their ties to the party after voting.
“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,” Mr. Bernier writes.
“Interestingly, one year later, most of them have not renewed their memberships and are not members of the party anymore.”
In his book, Mr. Bernier also takes a shot at Mr. Scheer for remarks he delivered at last year’s Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner, which features lighthearted speeches from party leaders. In his speech, Mr. Scheer said, “I certainly don’t owe my leadership victory to anybody,” before taking a swig out of a milk carton, to laughter from the crowd.
“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,” Mr. Bernier writes.
“But this also helps explain why so many people are so cynical about politics, and with good reason.”
After last year’s leadership vote, Mr. Bernier said he told Mr. Scheer that he would keep quiet on the issue of supply management, adding he had “no legitimacy” to question the party’s democratic decision to choose Mr. Scheer as leader.
“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,” Mr. Bernier writes. “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.”
Still, he says he doesn’t blame his opposition to supply management for his loss, calling it a “double-edged sword.” He writes, “In the end, I believe it brought me more votes than it cost me. I probably would have lost with an even bigger margin if I had campaigned differently.”
Mr. Scheer’s office declined to comment on Monday when asked about Mr. Bernier’s claims in the chapter.
The chapter chronicles Mr. Bernier’s decision to campaign against supply management, which he calls “one of the biggest taboos in Canadian politics.”
“It’s the total opposite of a free market, and a conservative party should not be supporting it,” Mr. Bernier writes in his opening paragraphs.
Mr. Bernier, who previously wrote an open letter to U.S. President Donald Trump arguing against supply management in exchange for the United States dismantling tariffs against Canadian softwood lumber, later predicts the supply-management system’s days are numbered. He suggests the Liberal government could argue it had no choice but to give it up in order to ensure a deal with the Trump administration on a North American free-trade agreement.
“I’m surprised that Liberal strategists haven’t thought of this yet. Or perhaps they have?” he writes.
He also criticizes the Harper government’s promised $4.3-billion to supply-managed farmers as part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade agreement announced in October, 2015.
“The government − yes, the government I was a part of, I’m sad to say − wanted to make sure only a few weeks ahead of the election that no one, neither the supply management lobbies, nor the opposition parties, would criticize it for failing to compensate the farmers enough,” Mr. Bernier said.
In the end, Mr. Bernier said he has no regrets about his own leadership campaign.
“I don’t see how I could have campaigned differently. I certainly could not have taken a stand in favour of supply management,” he writes.
“My campaign would have been based on a lie.”