Tony Clement is backing his onetime rival Maxime Bernier to become the next Conservative Party leader, saying he offers a “clarity of purpose and principle” and has what it takes to win the next election.
At a news conference Thursday morning, Clement called Bernier a “giant” of the Conservative movement who has the potential to help it grow.
The former cabinet minister, who held the health, industry and Treasury Board portfolios under Stephen Harper’s leadership, will serve as a special adviser on Bernier’s campaign team.
Bernier described Clement’s endorsement as a “new beginning” for his campaign, outlining how his cabinet experience shapes their common views on things like ending “Ottawa’s intrusion” into provincial jurisdiction over health care, cutting back on the CRTC’s regulation of the communications industry and constraining the budgets of federal government departments.
Clement said Bernier’s ideas align with his own so well that earlier, in his own aborted bid for the Conservative leadership, Bernier scooped him with his flat tax policy.
“Max got there before I did!” Clement joked to reporters, saying he took that as a sign of the “clear converging” of their platforms.
Clement said that speaking both official languages is an “essential precondition” for leading the party, and while the other candidates are all great people and this is “not about dragging them down” — “bless them for being willing to put their hand in the blender of a leadership campaign” — being able to explain ideas in both French and English is important.
Bernier, Clement said, can keep the party “focused and unified,” and his policy clarity, which Clement called “sound and realistic,” will be popular enough to motivate and grow the Conservative base because of its respect for taxpayers.
He fully supports Bernier’s broad, “next-gen” policy platform and there are no differences between them, Clement said. While he had hoped his own campaign would work out differently, he had “no hesitation” about endorsing Bernier.
Reporters pushed Clement on whether that meant he also agreed with Bernier on the need to end Canada’s system of supply management for the dairy, egg and poultry sectors. Bernier’s position runs contrary to a policy motion passed by the grassroots of the Conservative Party at its convention last May.
Clement said that supply management hurts Canada’s ability to reach trade deals at a time when Canadians need foreign market access and added there are other ways to support farming communities.
Clement also said he backed Bernier’s model to downsize the CBC and eliminate advertising on the public broadcaster, a model he said would “reduce the exposure of the taxpayer.”
Adding the endorsement of a prominent Ontario Conservative adds to the nation-wide base of support Bernier has been slowly building since becoming one of the earliest candidates out of the gate.
“I’ve seen a lot of leaders come and go,” Clement said, reflecting on his experience in the party. “Sometimes grey hair means something.”
“To me, Maxime Bernier is the kind of leader we need now,” he said. “People are going to be very disappointed in Justin Trudeau in 2019.”
Fundraising drove Clement out
In a conversation with CBC News Thursday morning, Clement said he has decided to back Bernier because he believes Bernier is the Conservative Party’s best hope of beating Trudeau in the next election.
Wednesday, members of Bernier’s team had described today’s announcement as “a game changer.”
Clement was one of the earlier candidates in the race to replace former Conservative Leader Stephen Harper but dropped out in October after his campaign failed to raise enough money to “meet the financial realities of this race.”
“I set for myself a series of benchmarks that I believed were necessary to achieve, by the fall, to ensure I had a viable chance of success,” Clement told supporters in a note at the time. “Unfortunately, we did not achieve those milestones to my satisfaction.”
Funding is one problem Bernier does not appear to have.
Over the summer, he raised more money than all of his rivals combined, pulling in $371,000 between July and September.
Race building toward next debate
Fourteen candidates now are vying for the Conservative leadership.
Former Ontario MP Pierre Lemieux and Vancouver businessman Rick Peterson filed their paperwork and paid their deposits to join the race in time for its next official candidates debate, next Tuesday in Moncton, New Brunswick.
Contenders continue to put out policy positions to try to draw attention and support to their bids.
Kellie Leitch issued a news release as Clement’s endorsement news was breaking, saying that as prime minister she would amend the Criminal Code to clarify the law surrounding the use of mace and pepper spray for self-defence. Currently it is illegal to possess the sprays but using them to defend against a criminal act doesn’t necessarily result in charges.
Leitch wants both the possession and use of these sprays for self-defence to be legal, arguing it could help women defend themselves against would-be attackers.
Lisa Raitt is speaking in Calgary at 2 p.m. ET at an agricultural manufacturers convention and trade show, where she will talk about “true Canadian values she strongly believes unite us all,” a campaign release said, addressing “how the real concerns of people need to be addressed in a respectful debate about Canada’s future in a rapidly changing world.”
In another Thursday morning release, candidate Andrew Saxton took aim at October’s youth employment figures and said his plan would put more emphasis on the kind of apprenticeship training available in parts of Europe, so young Canadians are trained with the skills necessary to get the jobs available, instead of employers turning to temporary foreign workers.
Andrew Scheer announced several new endorsements of his own this week, broadening his base in Ontario with the support of MP Marliyn Gladhu and former MPs Paul Calandra and Jeff Watson.