After a bombshell day for the Conservative party, many members attending the annual Tory convention in Halifax expressed quiet relief on Thursday that the long-expected divorce of maverick MP Maxime Bernier from the party was finally out of the way.
Delegates from across the country began arriving for the three-day policy convention in Nova Scotia just as Bernier staged a spectacular resignation from the party in Ottawa, calling the Tories “intellectually and morally corrupt” and announcing plans to start his own party for the 2019 election.
As news of Bernier’s announcement reverberated around the convention halls, many members said they felt it was something they felt was inevitable after the Quebec MP’s recent flurry of controversial tweets.
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It was “only a matter of time” until Bernier would leave, either by choice or by ousting, one member said.
“He kind of ripped off the Band-Aid,” another stated, a phrase that was repeated by several others.
A few people commented that some larger donors to Bernier’s campaign are now feeling angered by his rash decision to mount a battle against the Conservative party, and that they now feel a sense of “buyer’s remorse.”
Kathleen Mahar-Wagner of Quebec proudly displayed her reaction, fashioning a hand-drawn sign saying “bye bye Bernier,” which she wore around her neck.
“I’m very glad that he made the decision and that he’s left. I think it will be better for the party that he take his ideas and he does what he wants with them.”
Most used the word “disappointed” to describe how they felt about Bernier’s departure — some because they supported him and others because of the negative pall the spat has cast on the party in recent weeks.
“I was hoping he would stay in the party,” said Alex McColl.
“I supported Bernier because he supported ideas that I share. So we’ll see what happens for the rest of the policy convention, and hopefully we can have a Conservative party that supports those policies as well.”
Toronto delegate Stewart Kiff said he too felt let down as a former Bernier supporter.
“I feel very frustrated because Maxime ran for leader of the party. And here he is two years later, setting up his own party, saying that this party is not good enough for him. So to me it’s like breaking a contract, a bond with people.”
When asked if Bernier’s departure could fracture the party and, in turn, hand victory to the Liberals in the 2019 federal election, many said they felt the party remains united under leader Andrew Scheer.
“Most of us remember what happened when we splintered before: it gave us three successive governments of Liberals,” said Mike Chopowick of Brampton, Ont.
Jason Kenney, the leader of Alberta’s United Conservative Party, said he felt Bernier’s departure would not affect party unity under Scheer.
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“I think he has the overwhelming support of this party (and) with the exception of Max’s ego outburst today, I’ve never seen this party more united in Opposition before,” Kenney said.
But there remains a faction within the party, who supported Bernier in his campaign to end Canada’s supply management system, who say they are now worried about where they will fit in.
Just how this group will react to Bernier’s split from the Tories remains unknown for now, but a few expressed concern about the convention’s upcoming policy debates.
One of 74 policy resolutions to be voted on during breakout sessions on Friday supports killing supply management of agricultural products — but its ranking at the bottom of the list of resolutions to be debated makes a vote unlikely.
Peter McCaffrey of Calgary said he doesn’t like the idea that he won’t have an opportunity to vote on this resolution with Bernier now gone.
“I want good policy — free markets, small government, low tax — and I’m a little bit worried that the party is going to try to block us from voting on those things now,” he said.
Clinton Devereaux, who was handing out “end supply management” buttons on Thursday, said he felt Bernier had no choice but to leave.
“His caucus mates have told him to stop talking about the issues that he cares about: corporate welfare, supply management, border issues, all kinds of things,” he said.
“There’s no choice in the matter — the party doesn’t want him or people like him.”
The Conservative convention continues on Friday, beginning with an update on party finances from the party’s fund chair, Irving Gerstein. Policy sessions will continue throughout the afternoon.
The Canadian Press