Conservative MPs are expressing frustration and disappointment over colleague Maxime Bernier’s decision to release a book chapter about agriculture policy that contradicts federal Tory leader Andrew Scheer.
Mr. Bernier’s chapter criticizing supply management – while labeling some of Mr. Scheer’s supporters as “fake Conservatives” set up by the powerful dairy lobby – has led several Conservative MPs to muse about Mr. Bernier’s future on the front benches.
Mr. Bernier, who currently serves as the party’s 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.
Toronto-area MP Peter Kent said he was “terribly disappointed” by Mr. Bernier’s comments, first published in a book excerpt in The Globe and Mail.
“I can’t imagine what Max was thinking,” Mr. Kent, who supported Michael Chong in the leadership race, told The Globe.
“Freelancing in this way is an unacceptable challenge to the caucus, to the leader.”
Conservative MP Marilyn Gladu, who backed Mr. Scheer for leader, said Mr. Bernier’s comments are a distraction from more important issues, such as the stalled Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.
“The timing of the release of the book is unfortunate,” Ms. Gladu said.
Ms. Gladu, who represents the Southern Ontario riding of Sarnia, said she is awaiting Mr. Scheer’s response.
“I would expect as a minimum that he’d be advising Max, you know what, you’re distracting from what we’re trying to do as a team,” she said.
For the second day in a row, Mr. Scheer’s office declined to comment. Mr. Scheer is currently on a Disney cruise with his family as part of a Make-a-Wish trip for his six-year-old nephew, who received a bone marrow transplant two years ago. Mr. Scheer left for Florida on Saturday, his spokesman Jake Enwright said, which is why he did not attend Sunday’s vigil for the victims of the fatal bus crash near Humboldt, Sask. Parliament is currently on a two-week break, resuming next Monday.
In a chapter of Mr. Bernier’s upcoming book, Doing Politics Differently: My Vision for Canada, the free-market enthusiast chronicles his fervent opposition to the system that regulates prices on dairy, eggs and poultry in Canada.
Mr. Bernier said the dairy lobby worked to oppose him in the race, claiming the number of Conservative members in Quebec rose to more than 16,000 from 6,000, but has since dwindled back down to 6,000.
“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.
Mr. Bernier said he has no legitimacy to question the democratic decision to choose Mr. Scheer as leader, but will not pretend supply management 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,” he writes.
Mr. Bernier could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The Dairy Farmers of Canada, representing the largest of the supply-managed agricultural sectors, accused Mr. Bernier of “trying to rebuild his political relevance through attacks against supply management.”
Two of Mr. Bernier’s supporters in the race, Conservative MPs Alex Nuttall and Tony Clement, declined comment when reached Tuesday.
Ontario MP Larry Miller, a former cattle farmer, said it is unfair for Mr. Bernier to use the term “fake Conservatives,” as it’s common for candidates to sign up new supporters during a leadership race.
”Sure, it was close, we all know that, and we probably all knew going in. But you can’t cry sour grapes just because of that,” Mr. Miller said.
“Andrew won. So, too bad, so sad, get over it.”