Pierre Poilievre faced one of his first tests as federal Conservative leader on Tuesday as a prominent member of Parliament from Quebec announced he was leaving the Tories to sit as an Independent because he disagreed with the party’s new direction.
Describing himself as a “proud Progressive Conservative,” Richmond-Arthabaska MP Alain Rayes said he respected the choice made by Conservative party members on Saturday in which Poilievre scored a resounding first-ballot victory to become leader.
“However, some of my political ideals, values and convictions are not compatible with the new path undertaken by our political formation,” Rayes said in a statement posted to social media.
The announcement came shortly after Poilievre unveiled his leadership team inside and outside the House of Commons as he continued to shape the party to his liking ahead of next week’s return of Parliament.
The new, nine-member team includes Pierre Paul-Hus as the Conservatives’ new lieutenant in Quebec – a role previously filled by Rayes on two separate occasions, including in the lead-up to this year’s leadership race.
Rayes stepped down from the role in February to help former Quebec premier Jean Charest’s leadership campaign, during which Rayes publicly criticized Poilievre, saying he was sowing division within the party and among Canadians writ large.
Charest ended up placing a distant second in Saturday’s leadership vote.
Poilievre didn’t hold back when asked about Rayes’s departure during a brief news conference in which the new Conservative leader accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of not doing enough to help Canadians struggling with record inflation rates.
“He’s decided not to fight Justin Trudeau’s inflation,” Poilievre said in French.
“We are working to fight the inflationary deficits and taxes imposed by Justin Trudeau. The citizens in Mr. Rayes’s riding agree: They voted for me in the leadership race. And I believe that all Conservatives that remain in the caucus agree.”
Poilievre on Monday met with the party’s Quebec MPs, the majority of whom had backed Charest, before attending his first national caucus meeting. Rayes was not in attendance.
Later that evening, Poilievre tried reaching Rayes by phone but he was not available to answer, according to a spokesperson from Rayes’s office.
Fifty-three per cent of the 663 leadership ballots cast by Conservative members in Richmond-Arthabaska were for Poilievre, according to the party’s official results, as compared to 42 per cent for Charest.
Even as Rayes was announcing his departure from the Tories, Poilievre was continuing to put his stamp on the party by naming long-time Alberta MP Tim Uppal and Melissa Lantsman, a first-term MP from the Greater Toronto Area, as deputy leaders.
Former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer has also been tapped to serve as Opposition House leader, making him Poilievre’s chief lieutenant in the House of Commons, which is scheduled to return to normal sittings next week following the summer break.
All three were vocal supporters of Poilievre during the leadership campaign.
For subscribers: Get exclusive political news and analysis by signing up for the Politics Briefing.