Politics

Scheer says he won't discuss 'caucus dynamics' as calls grow for Bernier to be booted

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer refused to say Thursday whether there is any talk of removing his former leadership foe, Maxime Bernier, from the party's caucus after the Quebec MP sent out a series of controversial tweets, only saying Bernier does not speak for the party writ large.

Conservative Party 'hasn't changed much since the time of Stephen Harper,' PM Trudeau says

Maxime Bernier, left, congratulates Andrew Scheer for winning the Conservative leadership in Toronto on May 27, 2017. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer refused to say Thursday whether he's considering removing his former leadership rival, Maxime Bernier, from the party's caucus after the Quebec MP sent out a series of controversial tweets on diversity and multiculturalism.

Speaking to reporters in Regina, Scheer said Bernier doesn't speak for the party and he wants a unified caucus with the next federal election only a year away. Scheer said Conservatives will use that election campaign to pitch a different vision of immigration and diversity than the one being pushed by the current Liberal government.

Opposition leader Andrew Scheer spoke to reporters in Regina on Thursday. 1:33

He did not condemn Bernier's tweets — in which the Conservative MP accused the governing Liberals of pursuing a policy of "extreme multiculturalism" and the "cult of victimhood" — but said the Conservative Party has a tradition of supporting diversity.

He speaks for himself.- CPC Leader Andrew Scheer on Maxime  Bernier

"We have members of Parliament from all over the country, many of whom have a difference of opinion on some issues. I have asked all members of our team to work together," he said.

While Bernier is allowed to voice his own views on the state of diversity in this country, Scheer said, he's held no caucus leadership position since being removed from the party's shadow cabinet earlier this year after sparring with Scheer over supply management 

"He speaks for himself," he said.

In a series of tweets posted Sunday, Bernier — who narrowly lost the Conservative leadership to Scheer last year — said promoting too much diversity could have the effect of dividing Canada into "little tribes" that cause division and erode Canada's social cohesion.

He also criticized the city of Winnipeg's decision to rename a park there after Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of the modern state of Pakistan.

Bernier subsequently issued a second set of tweets insisting he's focused on "all Canadians" and accusing his critics of engaging in "identity politics" themselves.

Scheer's political opponents have said Bernier should be removed from caucus for sending what some have said are xenophobic tweets.

Liberal Ontario MP Arif Virani, the parliamentary secretary to the minister of heritage, has sent a letter to Scheer asking him to remove Bernier from the party. "Otherwise Canadians will be forced to conclude that you accept his backward views​," he wrote.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh also has called on Scheer to strongly denounce Bernier, calling his rhetoric a "dangerous message" to send to Canadians of diverse backgrounds.

A number of Conservative parliamentarians have also expressed dismay with Bernier's social media commentary.

Speaking with CBC News Wednesday, Conservative Ontario Sen. Salma Ataullahjan, who is Pakistani-Canadian, said Bernier's recent tweet singling out the Pakistani community was offensive and an attempt to pit Canadians against each other.

"I have a lot of respect for Maxime but it's divisive politics and I don't like that ... maybe he could say something else instead of picking on loyal Canadians and a community that's just trying to mind its own business," she said.

"A lot of [Pakistani-Canadians] supported his leadership bid and instead of wishing them well on Pakistan Independence Day he tweets this out ... He's just poking us in the eye for no reason."

Deepak Obhrai, a long-time Conservative MP from Alberta who also vied for the party's leadership in 2017, said he doesn't share Bernier's fears of "extreme multiculturalism" threatening Canada's social fabric, adding most immigrants integrate well.

He said he believes his party should be a "big blue tent" welcoming Canadians of all racial and ethnic backgrounds.

"A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian. Our party is open to all Canadians," he said in an interview with Vassy Kapelos the host of CBC's Power & Politics.

"All Canadians should be treated equally. I totally reject the notion of 'extreme diversity' or 'extreme multiculturalism' ... I know diversity has been a great strength for Canada."

Obhrai, a former parliamentary secretary to the minister of Foreign Affairs, said when he travelled abroad in that role many people celebrated Canada for being an inclusive country.

Alberta Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai weighs in on Maxime Bernier and whether he should remain in caucus after repeatedly tweeting about "extreme multiculturalism." 7:30

But Obhrai also suggested Conservatives should be wary of being drawn into a divisive internal debate over Bernier's tweets, adding that such a spat would amount to handing the Liberals a win.

"I can see Mr. Trudeau trying to make an issue out of it," he said. "Well, that's Liberal politics. We should remain focused [on other issues]."

He said one of the hallmarks of the Conservative party, and its predecessor, the now-defunct Reform party, is that it allows its parliamentarians and grassroots members to express differing views.

In his first public remarks on the increasingly fractious debate over diversity in this country, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said today that Bernier's tweets are just the latest display of the Conservative Party's "politics of division."

Asked about Bernier's condemnation of the Liberals for embracing ever more diversity, Trudeau said the Conservative Party "hasn't changed much since the time of Stephen Harper."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke to reporters in St Eustache Quebec on Thursday 0:58

The remark was an apparent reference to the party's electioneering over the niqab veil and a proposed 'barbaric cultural practices' hotline during the last election campaign.

"They still look at the politics of division as a way of drawing political advantage, by pitting Canadians against each other," Trudeau told reporters at an event in Saint-Eustache, Que.

"The politics of division, yes, can work in the short term to help you get elected, but it doesn't help you govern and mostly it doesn't help you solve the challenges that we are facing together as a society."

Even the mayor of St-Georges, a town in Bernier's riding of Beauce, south of Quebec City, said he doesn't understand his MP's "strategy" in launching a broadside against Canada's increasing diversity.

In an interview with CBC's French-language service, Radio-Canada, Claude Morin said his region needs more workers from abroad because of a shortage of manpower in a province with a rapidly aging population.

"We don't really understand his strategy. We need workers ... the Beauce needs new arrivals," he said in French.

About the Author

John Paul Tasker

Parliamentary Bureau

John Paul (J.P.) Tasker is a reporter in the CBC's Parliamentary bureau in Ottawa. He can be reached at john.tasker@cbc.ca.