Tory unity must have room for Bernier despite book, strategist says
'We need libertarians, we need a certain faction of social Conservatives'
A Montreal strategist says the Conservative party was wise not to publicly shame MP Maxime Bernier for a now-stalled book that accuses Andrew Scheer of pandering to "fake Conservatives" in the Quebec dairy lobby during last year's leadership race.
The controversy over the book, which has since been pulled from publication, won't leave the party with long-term scars, whereas kicking Bernier out of the Tory caucus could have, said Alexandre Meterissian, a former Tory staffer now with the public affairs firm Hatley Strategy Advisors.
"Maxime represents an important faction of the party, Libertarians, who are part of the Conservative movement," Meterissian said in an interview Thursday.
"I think Scheer and the caucus made the right decision to not kick him out, which would have alienated a big chunk of our voters."
The Conservatives dealt with the matter behind closed doors Wednesday during their first caucus meeting since the offending chapter was made public by the publisher for marketing purposes ahead of the book's scheduled publication in November.
In it, Bernier described "fake Conservatives" in the Quebec dairy lobby that he said signed up to join the Conservative party in Quebec for the sole purpose of thwarting Bernier and his controversial policy to eliminate supply management in the dairy industry.
Many observers believe Bernier's supply management position made the difference in the hard-fought campaign, which ended in his defeat last May when Scheer eked out a narrow victory on the 13th ballot.
In the book, Bernier makes note of Scheer's self-deprecating speech at last year's Parliamentary Press Gallery dinner in Ottawa, where the Conservative leader declared that he didn't owe his win to anybody, then took a deep swig from a carton of milk.
During the campaign, Scheer said Bernier's position on supply management would cost the country billions of dollars.
"He did what he thought he had to do to get the most votes, and that is fair game in a democratic system," Bernier wrote. "But this also helps explain why so many people are so cynical about politics, and with good reason."
The excerpt had many of Bernier's Conservative colleagues spitting nails, accusing him of being a sore loser or refusing to put the good of the party ahead of himself. MPs wouldn't say Wednesday what was said during the caucus meeting, but shortly afterward, Bernier said the book would be put on hold indefinitely for the "sake of maintaining harmony within our party."
Scheer himself hasn't commented on the book or the decision not to publish it. Several other MPs said Wednesday they wouldn't discuss what had been said in caucus but were happy with Bernier's decision not to go forward.
"What we had to say to Mr. Bernier was said in due course," Quebec MP Gerard Deltell said in French.
"It was in the caucus and now we are all looking at the election in 2019 we want to win for the good of Canadians."
Meterissian said while few Canadians will even be aware of the book, it could have taken a toll on party unity had it caused Scheer or the Conservatives to shun Bernier — a popular Quebec MP who is widely seen as the party's libertarian voice.
Losing him could have cost the party the support of a significant number of urban Conservatives who are critical to Tory election fortunes, he said.
"In a party you need to have a tent. And the fact of the matter is, if the Conservatives don't have the broadest possible tent, we're not going to win.
"That's just a fact. We need libertarians. We need a certain faction of social Conservatives."
The ongoing controversy over the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion between Alberta and B.C. might have been helpful cover for the Conservatives, since it has attracted the bulk of political and media attention over the last week.
A handful of party insiders reached Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter, said the book controversy barely made a ripple, given the other, more important issues at hand.