Bernier has enough support to go forward with new party, source says
OTTAWA -- A number of supporters who backed Maxime Bernier's oh-so-close bid for the Conservative leadership say they want nothing to do with his plan to start a new party -- but one source says the maverick ex-Tory already has what he needs to register his enterprise with Elections Canada.
Four members of Parliament and at least three senators who backed Bernier in last year's leadership race say they have no interest in endorsing what they consider a flight of fancy -- or supporting someone who just tossed a hand grenade into the party's 2019 election hopes.
"It's such a ridiculous decision, I can't support this," Tory Sen. Claude Carignan said Friday from the floor of the Conservative policy convention in Halifax.
But in an interview with La Presse Canadienne, Bernier himself said he wasn't expecting any caucus members to join him -- so much so, in fact, that he didn't tell them what he was planning.
"I have the support of members of the Conservative party," Bernier said in French. "Maybe not the 3,000 who are in Halifax now, but the Conservative party has 150,000 members as we speak. I think that is where I find the support I saw in the last few days, in the phone calls, the emails I got."
There were signs on social media of people willing to make the jump, including some convention delegates who were tearing up their membership cards after a proposed resolution to abolish Canada's supply management system for poultry and dairy products never even made it to debate.
Bernier, who is not in Halifax, reached out to them on Twitter.
"To all those who feel let down by this party, I say: You will be let down again and again. Don't waste your time," he tweeted. "It's time for a real conservative party defending real conservative values. The sooner this gets settled, the more chances we will have to defeat Justin Trudeau."
Elections Canada requires new political parties to have signatures and contact information from at least 250 people already in place as members in order to be eligible for party status. Bernier will also need three people to act as party officials, someone to be an official agent and an auditor.
Going to Elections Canada in one or two months would be "perfect," Bernier said, but a source familiar with his status said he already has the names and is just now double-checking the details before taking the next step.
"He's got enough to go to Elections Canada," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren't authorized to discuss details.
"That's about to happen."
Another source close to Bernier said the Quebec MP had been making phone calls to "key people" across Canada who supported his leadership bid long before he went ahead with Thursday's scorched-earth news conference, where he quit the Tories and tore a strip off leader Andrew Scheer.
Former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day said he knows Bernier has some business leaders backing him, but noted that starting a new political party is a herculean endeavour -- one in which not all of those supporters will have any interest in taking part.
Bernier is likely feeling emboldened by the support he has received -- especially in financial terms -- in the last few months as his feud with Scheer reached a fever pitch, Day said. In June, the day after Scheer stripped him of his shadow cabinet job, Bernier received $28,455 in donations in less than 24 hours.
But Scheer needs to remind the party what happens when Conservatives splinter, Day added.
"If (Bernier) is successful even on paper, then the challenge for the Conservatives is going to be to ask people to go back and think about the history of what Conservatives gain when they have two voting alternatives for voters. Really, they gain nothing."
That's the fear celebrity businessman Kevin O'Leary is fighting.
Himself a one-time candidate for Scheer's job, O'Leary -- who dropped out to back Bernier in the final days of the race -- said Friday he's trying to decide what to do, although he admitted he is "getting intrigued" by the prospect of one day taking on a major policy-making role.
He said Bernier could pull as much as one-fifth of Conservative support at the ballot box, all but guaranteeing the Liberals another term in office, he warned: "I think we need to do a little soul searching here."
Others who supported Bernier's leadership bid have yet to make up their minds: "Good question," Sen. Stephen Greene replied when asked if he supports Bernier's new initiative.
Conservative MP Alex Nuttall, who played a key role in Bernier's leadership campaign, has not responded to multiple requests.
With files from Mylene Crete and Lina Dib in Ottawa.