Bernier says he has raised over $90,000 since quitting the Conservatives
Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier speaks at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario, on Monday April 3, 2017. (Lars Hagberg / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
OTTAWA -- Maxime Bernier claimed Wednesday that he has raised more than $90,000 for his new political venture and says the party he intends to lead will be in place by the time his political rivals return to Ottawa.
In a fundraising email to supporters, the former Conservative MP writes that he is working to complete the requisite Elections Canada forms and develop the party's constitution and platform.
Bernier organizer Martin Masse said about 2,500 people donated to Bernier's cause.
Bernier writes in his message that the donations are "all the more generous" because his team can't issue tax receipts for the donations. A spokesperson with Elections Canada said a party must be registered in order for it to be subject to political financing rules.
The maverick MP announced Aug. 23 that he was leaving the Conservative party and starting his own political movement, calling his former leader and colleagues "intellectually and morally corrupt" as he slammed the door on his way out.
Bernier said in his email blast that he has spent the past week on the phone with supporters and organizers across the country, calling them "the backbone of the new party's organization."
He also claimed to have received hundreds of letters from supporters and others interested in becoming a candidate under the Bernier banner.
Bernier told supporters his goal is to have the new party up and running by Sept. 17 when the House of Commons returns from its summer break.
Brock Harrison, a spokesman for Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, would not comment on the latest development in the Bernier camp.
Former Conservative cabinet minister Stockwell Day said if Bernier's comments are accurate and his party is registered in two weeks, Bernier could hand two election victories to the governing Liberals by splitting votes on the right -- if his party lasts beyond the 2019 election.
Conservatives discuss the Bernier situation "hourly" and most agree that when conservative voters are presented with two options, the vote will be split between Bernier and Scheer, Day said.
"I know both men, consider them both to be friends, but I've seen this movie before," he said.
Day said he wasn't surprised by the amount that Bernier purportedly pulled in through donations -- Bernier was considered an effective fundraiser for the Tories -- and called this a "historical moment."
Celebrity businessman Kevin O'Leary, who dropped out to back Bernier in the final days of last year's Conservative leadership race, said he is not worried about a conservative divide because he believes Bernier will draw support from the NDP and the Liberals as well.
O'Leary said he has not donated to Bernier, whom he considers a friend, and instead has tried, on two occasions, to "pull Max back" to the Conservative party.
O'Leary said he will be putting his energy into working with and helping someone beat Trudeau and, "it's got to be Scheer. He's the default guy."
"In order to get better policy, I have to choose a party who is going to get at least a majority, or maybe a minority, mandate," O'Leary said.
"What's the probability that Max is going to get in a situation where he will have a minority mandate? In my view, and I say this with all the respect to him, it's zero."