Maxime Bernier officially launches bid for Tory leadership

Calling it his "race of a lifetime," Conservative MP Maxime Bernier officially launched his bid for his party's leadership Sunday at an event in the heart of his Beauce riding, located south of Quebec City.

Long-time Beauce Conservative MP one of only two candidates at the moment

Maxime Bernier touted his hometown values of independence, entrepreneurial spirit and integrity as cornerstones of his campaign. (CBC)

Calling it his "race of a lifetime," Conservative MP Maxime Bernier officially launched his bid for his party's leadership Sunday at an event in the heart of his Beauce riding, located south of Quebec City.

The event, complete with roast chicken dinner from St-Hubert, took place Sunday morning at the Centre Caztel in Sainte-Marie, Que.

Bernier was introduced by a video that focused on his love of running, which the candidate is making a central metaphor of his campaign. 

"I'm in this race to defend liberty and individual responsibility, for the values of fairness and respect," Bernier says in the video. 

"I'm running to win."

In his address to supporters Sunday, Bernier highlighted the local values that he said lie at the heart of his political career.

"Beauce is a land of builders and entrepreneurs, of independence and integrity, of entrepreneurial spirit," he said.

"These are Beauce values, and they're universal values."

Critical of deficit spending

He contrasted those values with those he says are now guiding governments in Canada, including that of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. 

"The state keeps growing and our freedom keeps shrinking. Almost half of your salaries are disappearing in taxes to fund federal, provincial and municipal governments," he said.

He criticized Trudeau government plans to undertake $110 billion in deficit spending in the coming years, which he called "irresponsible to Canadians, and to future generations."

Bernier said his campaign is based on a "new vision" of Canada's future based on the four key principles of freedom, responsibility, fairness and respect.

Signs bearing those keywords bobbed up and down in the crowd behind him.

"Imagine a country where those values guide all political decisions – that's the ideal I'm campaigning for," he said.

Campaign co-chairs John Reynolds, Jacques Gourde 

Bernier was introduced by his campaign co-chairman Jacques Gourde, the Conservative MP for the neighbouring riding of Lotbinière—Chutes-de-la-Chaudière.

"When a man from Beauce steps up to the start line, it's to win," Gourde said. 

He said Bernier has everything it takes to be both the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, and the next Prime Minister of Canada, a claim that met with a standing ovation from the capacity crowd.

"He is capable, able to make decisions – a man who is fair and represents the values of individual liberty and truth," he said.

"He doesn't crack under pressure – and we know he's experienced a lot of pressure."

Former Tory MP John Reynolds, who chaired Stephen Harper's first successful campaigns for prime minister, is serving as co-chair of Bernier's national campaign and took the podium to promote the candidate.

"I believe that under his strong leadership, the Conservatives will defeat Trudeau in the next election," he said.

Noting he's "been around for a long time," Reynolds called Bernier the "most qualified and capable candidate" for the Tory leadership.

Bernier and Ontario Conservative MP Kellie Leitch are the only two candidates for the Conservative leadership at the moment.

He was drawn into federal politics in 2006 in an effort by the Tories to reverse their failure to win any seats at all in Quebec in 2004.

Bernier captured his riding of Beauce with 67 per cent of the vote that year and has easily won re-election every time since.

Conservatives will vote for a new leader on May 27, 2017.