Scheer cautions Bernier: Members of caucus need to work together
OTTAWA -- Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer issued an indirect warning to outspoken caucus member Maxime Bernier on Thursday: members of caucus are expected to be team-players, focused on the same goal.
"There is an expectation in our caucus, and on our team, that everyone is focused on working together to earn back the trust of Canadians and to replace Justin Trudeau as prime minister in the next election," Scheer said.
"Every Member of Parliament should be, as their key priority, working towards putting out the types of policies that resonate with Canadians."
His comments to reporters in Regina come after a few days of back and forth exchanges over the Quebec MP's public remarks.
On Sunday evening, Bernier issued a series of tweets on diversity, saying that "Trudeau's extreme multiculturalism and cult of diversity will divide us into little tribes," and that "more diversity will not be our strength, it will destroy what has made us such a great country."
Bernier then questioned the naming of a park after Pakistan’s founder; and criticized the federal government looking to make a statutory holiday in recognition of residential schools as a "cult of victimhood."
On Wednesday night, Scheer issued a statement distancing himself and the party from the outspoken Quebec MP and characterized his comments as using identity politics to divide Canadians.
Bernier followed that up Thursday morning with another round of tweets denying he was engaging in identity politics.
Facing questions about whether he’s entertaining the possibility of Bernier’s removal from caucus—something Liberals and New Democrats have called for— Scheer said he wouldn’t talk about internal caucus matters but pointed out that it would be something decided on as a team.
The party adopted rules in 2015 to make it so the leader alone cannot remove a member of Parliament from caucus on their own, it needs to be voted on, and supported by a majority of caucus.
At this point, Scheer has offered no indication that a caucus member has broached the subject.
The caucus is set to hold a closed-door caucus meeting on the first day of the party’s convention in Halifax next week. A spokesperson for Scheer said this is standard practice.
Scheer reiterated his earlier assertion that Bernier speaks for himself, and highlighted the party’s position on immigration.
"I believe that you can have both a policy that’s embracing of people coming to this country from all over the world, while at the same time preserving our Canadian identity, passing that along, and celebrating the fact that we are the type of country that people want to come to."
Members of the party have expressed dissatisfaction over Bernier’s recent string of comments, and as The Canadian Press reported last month, there have been calls previously from within caucus to remove Bernier from the Conservative benches.
Conservative Sen. Salma Ataullahjan told CTV News she thinks Bernier’s comments are divisive and unneeded in the party.
She also questioned what Bernier’s end-game is, pointing out the looming convention.
"We should be presenting a united front," she said.
"There are many people in the Conservative caucus who share the views that I have, and other parliamentarians have, that what he has said has crossed a line," Liberal MP and multiculturalism parliamentary secretary Arif Virani told CTV News.
He said by not taking a stronger stance in condemning Bernier, it makes it seem like he is condoning his views, and encouraged him to listen to caucus on the matter.
"If you're going to disassociate your views as Mr. Scheer has attempted to do today, from Mr. Bernier, and say he doesn't speak on behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada, again I think it begs the question why is he still considered a Conservative, and still sitting in that caucus?"
Bernier came second to Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer in the party's 2017 leadership race. In June, Scheer removed him from the caucus' shadow cabinet, and seated him among the backbenches, citing his ongoing promotion of his controversial positions.
Trudeau also weighed in Thursday, saying the Conservative party is using the politics of division for a political advantage.
"The politics of division, yes can work in the short-term to help getting 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."