OTTAWA -- Conservative MP and former cabinet minister Ed Fast has declined a spot in Andrew Scheer's shadow cabinet, saying the party leader needs to be surrounded by people who fully support him.

In an interview with The Canadian Press, Fast would not elaborate on his own level of support for Scheer, saying only he told the party leader directly he didn't want a spot on the front benches.  

"Mr. Scheer and I had a conversation about where I did fit, and I expressed my desire not to be included at this time," Fast said.

"Mr. Scheer is entitled to surround himself with a team that fully supports his leadership."

Fast would not say whether he believes Scheer should remain as leader, saying his statement on staying off the critics' roster was as much as he would say.

But his decision to step away from the Conservative front benches is a clear sign of the challenge the party leader is facing to his future at the helm of the party.

Fast has been an MP since 2006 and served as the minister of trade in the previous Conservative government, responsible for negotiating several high-profile international agreements.

He's one of the Conservative party's most senior MPs and commands respect for the depth and breadth of his experience.

In 2016, he suffered a stroke, but said Friday his health is currently fine.

It has been a brutal week for Scheer.

He has faced calls for his resignation from across the party spectrum and the launch of a high-profile public campaign aimed at getting him either to step aside or be defeated as leader at the upcoming convention.

Later Friday, he was to head directly into the Conservative heartland of Alberta. Though the party swept every seat but one there last month and bolstered its popular-vote count, there is still much anger there over Scheer's failure to take the party to power.

Fast said that anger extends further west to his home province of British Columbia.

"The Conservatives won more seats but we expected to win government," he said.

Fast expressed frustration over how the party's climate-change policy was handled, saying most of the voters he met didn't even know the party had one. He had previously served as Scheer's critic for the environment ministry.

Fast declined to say what he thinks ought to change for the party, citing the myriad reviews now underway.

Fast's absence from the critic list was noted Friday as Scheer finally released the roster of those charged with holding the government to account when the House of Commons returns next week.

Replacing Fast in the environment critic role is Kerry-Lynne Findlay, also from a B.C. riding. She is among the Tory MPs who were defeated in 2015 but ran again and won in 2019.

"Mr. Scheer's shadow cabinet, which is 50 MPs strong, is ready to hold Justin Trudeau to account every single day in the House of Commons," said Scheer's spokesman Simon Jefferies in an emailed statement.

"Mr. Scheer appreciates the efforts Ed Fast put into developing the Conservative environment plan as the previous shadow minister and Mrs. Kerry-Lynne Findlay will continue to build on his work as the new shadow minister for the environment and climate change.

"Mr. Fast will continue to serve the Conservative caucus in different ways."

Scheer also tapped rookies Tracy Gray from B.C. to be critic for interprovincial trade and Marty Morantz from Manitoba as his national revenue critic.

Former leadership rivals Michael Chong, Erin O'Toole and Steven Blaney all retained their critic spots.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 29, 2019.