MONTREAL -- Andrew Scheer says he doesn't feel betrayed by former Tory leadership rival Maxime Bernier for suggesting he won the race last May due to "fake Conservatives" who wanted to "protect their privileges."
Scheer was in Montreal on Thursday to launch a Quebec-wide tour with the goal of collecting ideas that will form part of the Conservatives' 2019 election platform.
But Scheer couldn't escape answering questions about Bernier, who announced the day prior he would "indefinitely" postpone publication of his new book in the interests of party unity.
Bernier had suggested in the book that Scheer was elected leader last May after thousands of people in Quebec bought memberships in the party just to vote for a candidate who would continue the policy of supply management.
The Quebec MP had run a campaign against the system, which protects dairy, poultry and egg farmers from foreign competition and is very popular in the province.
In the last months of the leadership race, roughly 10,000 Quebecers joined the Tories and a similar number didn't renew their membership by spring 2018, Bernier noted in the book, a chapter of which was released to the media.
Scheer added it's not uncommon in all parties for membership lists to swell during leadership campaigns and nomination races and to drop off after.
"That is a normal tendency," Scheer said. "My experience is that people in the dairy industry and who have worked hard to create a business for their family and pass the farm along to the next generation -- they are real Conservatives.
"And many people, who have perhaps joined the party to support (supply management) also agree with the party on many other issues.
"They are against the carbon tax, they want more secure borders, they want an immigration system that works. They don't want deficits."
Scheer said he respects Bernier's move to delay publication of his book.
Quebec MP Alain Rayes, who is considered a rising star in the party and is leading the Conservatives' tour across the province, said the Tories are extending a hand to Quebecers and looking to listen to their ideas.
"The support for the Liberal party is diminishing and we see it across polls," he said. "What people are realizing is that across Canada, the Conservative party is making major gains. And no one today can confirm Liberals will be in power after the next election.
"What we are saying to Quebecers is to take their place at the table -- and we are listening."
And with regard to Bernier's future in the party, Rayes said the former leadership contender has already made a good first step.
"Honestly, it's Bernier who will decide (his future)," he said. "I think he already made a good first decision by pulling out from publishing his book."