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Maverick MP calls news conference in Ottawa as Tories meet in Halifax

Conservative MP Maxime Bernier participates in an interview with The Canadian Press in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. Maverick Conservative MP and former leadership hopeful Maxime Bernier has called a news conference in Ottawa just as his caucus colleagues are kicking off a three-day gathering in Halifax.
Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
August 23, 2018 - 9:00 AM

OTTAWA - Maverick Conservative MP and former leadership hopeful Maxime Bernier has called a news conference in Ottawa just as his caucus colleagues are kicking off a three-day gathering in Halifax.

Speculation about Bernier's ongoing role in caucus has reached a fever pitch in recent days as the Beauce MP has used his Twitter feed to continue to defy his party on issues like immigration and supply management.

Bernier's caucus colleagues had perhaps been hoping today's meeting would be chance to clear the air, but a terse news release — free of Conservative hallmarks and listing the MP himself as the only contact — says he will instead make a statement at 1 p.m. ET on Parliament Hill.

One report out of Quebec, from Montreal radio station 98.5FM, suggests Bernier — who lost the Conservative leadership by the narrowest of margins to rival Andrew Scheer — is on the verge of leaving the Conservatives and may even be planning to form his own party.

As recently as three weeks ago, Bernier told The Canadian Press in an interview that he was planning to run for the Conservatives in the next election despite Scheer's decision earlier this summer to strip him of his portfolio in the Tory shadow cabinet.

Today's news appeared to catch most Conservatives completely by surprise, including some who supported Bernier in the leadership race. Several who were contacted said they had no idea what Bernier was up to.

Steven Fletcher, a Bernier supporter and former Conservative cabinet minister who was recently denied the chance to run for the party again in the next election, said he was just learning of Bernier's plans on his way to register for the convention.

"There are a lot of people that will support Bernier," and not just in Quebec, Fletcher said.

"In Winnipeg, Bernier won every (leadership) ballot by a convincing margin. This is amazing for a guy from Quebec, but his policies around aerospace and supply management have a lot of support in Winnipeg."

Fletcher said he would wait to hear from the man himself before saying whether he would stand with him.

Bernier is no stranger to controversy, but his latest dust-up with the party began last spring after he released a promotional chapter of his forthcoming book that accused Scheer of pandering to "fake Conservatives" in Quebec during their leadership battle.

The tensions ramped up in recent days as Bernier took to Twitter to criticize Canada's immigration policies and what he called "extreme multiculturalism," which he said he believes risks ruining the Canadian fabric.

Bernier has said he believes immigration in Canada is at "too high a level," and is in danger of becoming a "burden" to Canadians instead of an economic boon.

"It becomes essentially a big-government policy of social engineering for ideological and electoral purposes," he wrote.

His defiance prompted fellow Tory and immigration critic Michelle Rempel this week to urge him to decide who he wants to win the next election: Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer or Liberal rival Justin Trudeau.

He has also sparred openly with the party and Scheer over their ongoing support for Canada's supply management system for poultry and dairy products, a scheme he believes should be abolished.

Today's news conference comes just as the party gathers in Halifax for a three-day policy convention, with a caucus meeting scheduled for later today, shortly after Bernier's statement.

"After disavowing me last week for raising the issue and telling me to shut up, my colleagues have just realized that this is something Canadians find important and want to hear about? Great example of strong leadership!"

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