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Politics Conservatives tell MP Maxime Bernier to ‘play on the team' in midst of spat over identity politics

The Conservative Party is warning outspoken MP Maxime Bernier that he must choose between being a maverick or a caucus member after a public spat with Tory Leader Andrew Scheer over identity politics.

The back-and-forth comes a week before the party meets to chart its course for next year’s federal election.

Mr. Scheer on Thursday urged Mr. Bernier to be a team player, while his Quebec lieutenant Alain Rayes went further, suggesting there is a limit to how much deviation the caucus will tolerate from Mr. Scheer’s former leadership rival.

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“We think that Maxime has his place within the party if he is ready to play on the team,” Mr. Rayes told The Globe. “He is not the leader today. It’s Andrew Scheer and we are all behind him.”

Referring to an eventual caucus discussion with Mr. Bernier, Mr. Rayes said the main question will be: “Are you on board or not?”

The party is set to hold a policy convention next week in Halifax. Some 3,000 delegates from across the country will debate major issues such as immigration, economic policy and democratic reform.

The convention is being billed as a chance to mobilize the Conservative Party’s base before the October, 2019, election. But Mr. Bernier’s recent controversial remarks on Twitter, on diversity and other hot-button issues, threaten to overshadow the agenda, with Conservative MPs expecting the matter to dominate the meetings.

On Thursday, Mr. Scheer avoided questions about Mr. Bernier’s future in the caucus.

“I have asked all members of our team to work together. I believe that’s the best way to win the next election … to show that we’re a government-in-waiting, show that we’ve got the types of policies that will resonate with Canadians,” Mr. Scheer told reporters in Regina, adding that his party believes in "both diversity and unity.”

“I’m not going to get into internal caucus dynamics. … We decide those things as team," Mr. Scheer said. He said Mr. Bernier no longer holds a critic role in caucus and “is speaking for himself."

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Mr. Scheer’s response comes after five days of tweets from Mr. Bernier that included concerns about pushing for more diversity in Canada and the Trudeau government’s “extreme multiculturalism,” and dismay about naming a park in Winnipeg after the founder of Pakistan, comparing it to the decision to remove a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from outside Victoria City Hall.

Mr. Scheer said in a statement on Wednesday night that he disagrees “with politicians on the left and the right when they use identity politics to divide Canadians. I will not engage in this type of politics.”

Mr. Bernier again responded to the Conservative Leader on Twitter, defending himself, on Thursday.

Mr. Scheer himself doesn’t have the power to expel an MP from his caucus. Per the Reform Act passed in 2015, it takes written requests of 20 per cent of MPs in the Tory caucus to call a vote on expelling a member – and that person would only be booted if a majority of MPs voted for it in a secret ballot. (Neither the Liberals nor NDP voted to apply any of the Reform Act provisions.)

Andrew MacDougall, a London-based communications consultant and former director of communications to prime minister Stephen Harper, said Mr. Scheer needs to raise the level of support for Conservatives from about 30 per cent to 40 per cent in order to win an election.

“There’s no votes for Conservatives in this talk,” Mr. MacDougall said. “Banging on about it in kind of hostile or inflammatory language just scares the crap out of people who are thinking of voting Conservative.”

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Mr. Bernier was removed as industry critic from Mr. Scheer’s shadow cabinet this spring after he posted a chapter of his unpublished book, in which he suggested Mr. Scheer won the party leadership with the help of “fake Conservatives” from the Quebec dairy lobby.

With a report from Campbell Clark in Ottawa

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