Clement says this 'isn't the Max Bernier' he supported in the leadership race

Clement compares Bernier to Kellie Leitch, Bezan says he's exercising 'poor judgment'

The Canadian Press · Posted: Aug 17, 2018 1:00 PM ET | Last Updated: August 17

Maxime Bernier's recent online comments railing against 'extreme multiculturalism' are being disavowed by his caucus colleague Tony Clement, who supported him for the party leadership in 2016.

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Conservative MP Tony Clement says Maxime Bernier is "raging at the sky" and isn't the same politician he supported during last year's Conservative leadership race.

Clement likened Bernier's recent diatribes against "extreme multiculturalism" to former Conservative leadership rival Kellie Leitch's controversial proposal to test immigrants and refugees for "Canadian values."

"The Max Bernier that I supported during the leadership race wouldn't have taken the position he's taking now," Clement said in an interview.

Clement said he remembers clearly Bernier opposing Leitch's proposal when she was "saying very similar things."

'Raging at the sky'

"I think that Max may soon find that he's a guy raging at the sky rather than being taken seriously on some of these things," he said.

In a series of tweets posted Sunday, Bernier said promoting too much diversity could have the effect of segmenting Canada into "little tribes" that cause division and erode the country's identity. On Tuesday, he seized on a decision to name a park in Winnipeg after the founder of Pakistan, comparing it to the decision to remove a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald from outside Victoria city hall.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said Thursday that he's asked his team to work together but wouldn't say whether he'll take any action against Bernier. He dodged questions from reporters about whether the Beauce MP will be removed from caucus.

Scheer said those decisions are made as a team and that the expectation is that all members work "towards the same goal." He also reiterated that Bernier speaks "for himself" and not the party.

In a statement issued Wednesday, Scheer said he personally disagrees with politicians on the left and the right when they use identity politics to divide Canadians and he vowed to "not engage in this type of politics."

Bernier fired back at that statement Thursday on Twitter, saying he has repeatedly stated he believes it is destructive to focus on cultural and ethnic identity in political discussions.

Bernier said he's advancing "the opposite of identity politics" by focusing on policy solutions that concern all Canadians.

Clement said he has not spoken to Bernier and he doesn't know what his motives are.

"All I know is that this isn't the Max Bernier that I saw and supported over a year ago in the leadership."

Pointing to his seniority in the party, Clement said he's been around a long time and wants to keep the party "united". He quickly added, though, that Bernier is not threatening party unity because the party is "robust."

'Constantly at odds'

Conservative MP James Bezan said Bernier should apologize for his "divisive" comments.

"Max continues to exercise poor judgment and is constantly at odds with caucus," said Bezan.

Under an optional law sponsored by Conservative MP Michael Chong which Conservative MPs agreed to apply to their parliamentary group, kicking Bernier out of caucus is not up to Scheer. His removal would have to be initiated by a letter signed by one-fifth of his fellow Conservative MPs, which would then have to win majority caucus support in a secret ballot vote.

But beyond that, there may be other reasons why Scheer might want to keep Bernier.

Tim Powers, a Conservative strategist and vice-chairman of Summa Strategies, said throwing Bernier out would isolate his supporters and send a message that they're not welcome in the party.

"At least for now, Scheer is probably of the view (that it's) better to have him inside the tent pissing on people, than outside pissing in."

Powers said removing Bernier would "create some jeopardy" for the Conservative coalition.

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