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Bernier contacted 'key people' before announcing new party, source says

Last Updated Aug 24, 2018 at 5:59 am EDT

Quebec MP Maxime Bernier announces he will leave the Conservative party during a news conference in Ottawa on Aug. 23, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

Quebec MP Maxime Bernier had already hit the ground running before Thursday’s bombshell announcement that he would quit the Conservatives and launch his own party, a source close to the controversial MP says.

The source, who spoke to The Canadian Press on the condition of anonymity, said the MP for the riding of Beauce made a number of phone calls to “key people” across Canada before his news conference sent seismic shockwaves through political Ottawa.

The group Bernier chose to inform was small but powerful — organizers and business people in cities like Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver, with “many contacts” who supported his unsuccessful Conservative leadership bid, said the source said.

On Thursday, as his now-former caucus mates gathered for the biennial Conservative policy convention in Halifax, Bernier declared he would no longer represent the Tories and would instead strike out on his own and start a party of his own.

“I have come to realize over the past year that this party is too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed,” Bernier said in a lengthy statement savaging both the party and its current leadership.

But when asked repeatedly who he had consulted before his decision, he would only say, “I’m starting that conversation right now.”

So far, no Conservative MPs have publicly expressed any support for Bernier’s endeavour. But Steven Fletcher, a former Tory minister who supported Bernier’s leadership bid, said he is open to the possibility of joining the cause.

Fletcher, too, has been on the outs with the Conservatives: he was denied the chance to seek the nomination for a riding in Winnipeg in anticipation of the 2019 election.

Observers and pundits were nearly unanimous Thursday in declaring Bernier’s decision bad news for Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives, but Adam Daifallah, managing partner of Montreal public affairs firm Hatley Strategy Advisors, said it’s “way too early” to know for sure.

“If it’s purely the Max show, then no,” said Daifallah, who suggested the new, as-yet-unnamed party would need at least 100 candidates on the ballot — Canada has 338 federal ridings all told — in order to have an impact.

With files from Mia Rabson in Ottawa