Bernier vows to embrace Conservative critic role, be silent about supply management

Twice in the last three months, Maxime Bernier has watched someone else walk away with the job he wanted. But as the MP from Quebec's Beauce region prepares to take on the role on Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer's team, he's not complaining.

Leadership runnerup says innovation file will allow him to focus on other issues he raised in campaign

Quebec MP Maxime Bernier has been given the role of critic for the Innovation, Science and Economic Development file. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

Twice in the last three months, Maxime Bernier has watched someone else walk away with the job he wanted. 

In May, the Quebec MP and former cabinet minister walked into the Conservative leadership convention nearly certain he was going to win. Instead, he watched from across the aisle as Andrew Scheer won by a 0.95-percentage point margin. 

Then, as Bernier was dusting himself off from the loss, he began to muse publicly about what would come next. 

"It will all depend on what my leader Andrew offers me. I want to play an important role in the Conservative Party of Canada as a critic. I won't hide that the role I have my eye on is the finance critic," he said in an interview with Quebec radio station CHOI-FM. He made similar comments to the Globe and Mail.

No such luck. Bernier has now watched another job he wanted given to someone else — the younger provocateur par excellence, Pierre Poilievre.

Bernier was left with the Innovation, Science and Economic Development portfolio. Most would call it by a previous moniker, "Industry." It's still an economic file, but not as high profile as finance.

But Bernier is not complaining.

"Most important for me was to have an economic portfolio, and, as you know, the industry portfolio is an economic one and I'm very pleased with that," he told CBC News.

While Bernier admits it's his second choice, he said he'll be happy to hammer away on issues like subsidies and grants to big businesses. Speaking out against "corporate welfare" was a big part of his libertarian-oriented leadership campaign.

Abolishing supply management

It's also a place where he shares some ideological common ground with Scheer — unlike supply management, an issue upon which he and Scheer were diametrically opposed.

Bernier still believes abolishing supply management for dairy and poultry is the right thing to do, but he said he knows the majority of the party is siding with Scheer on this one.

"I still believe the best policy for Canada will be abolish that, but I'm the only one and I won't speak about that," said Bernier. 

"It is not my portfolio. I did my fight. I was not successful. And now let's work on things that we have in common, Andrew and I. And that's the economy."

Would disagreeing on such a major economic issue make it virtually impossible for Scheer to name Bernier as finance critic?

"You must ask him the question," said Bernier.

Lessons learned

Bernier said in the months since his loss he's spent time with family and trained for a marathon. He thought about leaving politics. He said he's entertained a few offers from financial companies in the private sector. 

Ultimately, he decided that he likes politics and wanted to stay and fight for what he calls "freedom ideas."

He still considers his leadership campaign a success, noting that few journalists would have pegged him to be a front-runner when the leadership campaign began.

He said he also learned a few lessons.

"I learned that you must not be afraid to speak about what you believe. And to have principles. If you have your principles and policies in line with the principles, you'll gain a lot of respect."

Respect, perhaps, though not always the job you want.


Catherine Cullen

Senior reporter

Catherine Cullen is host of CBC Radio's The House and a Senior Reporter on Parliament Hill.