Alain Rayes, an MP from Quebec, announced on Tuesday that he will leave the Conservative caucus and sit as an independent because he objects to the confrontational style of politics associated with new Tory Leader Pierre Poilievre.
In a news conference later in the day, Mr. Poilievre dismissed the departure as irrelevant, saying that he still has the support of most Conservatives in Mr. Rayes’s Richmond-Arthabaska riding.
“He’s decided not to fight Justin Trudeau’s inflation,” Mr. Poilievre said of Mr. Rayes. “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 remained in the caucus agree.”
Mr. Rayes was first elected to Parliament in 2015, and acted as a Quebec lieutenant for former Conservative leaders Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole. In the race to replace Mr. O’Toole, which Mr. Poilievre won handily on Saturday, Mr. Rayes supported another contender, Jean Charest.
In an interview, Mr. Rayes said he no longer feels comfortable in the Conservative caucus, in part because Mr. Poilievre has not distanced himself from the freedom convoy, which caused chaos Ottawa’s earlier this year as its anti-pandemic-restriction protesters blocked streets with cars and trucks. Mr. Rayes said he also objects to the tone of Mr. Poilievre’s politics.
He said it wasn’t Mr. Poilievre’s own words that had offended him, but rather the approach of his supporters, who Mr. Rayes said have attacked the new Leader’s rivals.
Mr. Poilievre held a meeting with the Quebec Conservative caucus on Monday, ahead of a meeting with the national party caucus. But Mr. Rayes said he skipped the Quebec meeting because he had already decided to leave the party. He said he didn’t know if the other nine members of the Quebec caucus share his views.
In a statement, he said he remains a “proud Progressive Conservative” and will continue to serve constituents in his riding.
“I respect the choice made by members of the Conservative Party of Canada in the last leadership race. However, some of my political ideals, values and convictions are not compatible with the new path undertaken by our political formation,” the statement said.
“I leave without bitterness and I remain driven by the deep desire to continue to serve the population on the political scene ... with the same rigour, passion and dedication as usual.”
Early on in the leadership race, Mr. Rayes was among the signatories of an open letter urging Jean Charest to enter the campaign. “Canada needs you, Mr. Charest,” it said.
Mr. Rayes said at the time that he hoped the party would elect a progressive leader who would represent centre-right economic values. He accused Mr. Poilievre’s team of trying to prevent a debate on conservative ideas by casting out members of the Conservative Party family.
Mr. Rayes also took issue with suggestions from key members of Mr. Poilievre’s team that Mr. Charest was more Liberal than Conservative. Mr. Charest led the Quebec Liberal party as premier until 2012.
Mr. Charest won six of Quebec’s ridings in the leadership vote. Mr. Poilievre took the province’s other 72 ridings and won the leadership with 68-per-cent support on the first ballot, compared to 16 per cent for Mr. Charest, his nearest rival.
After losing the leadership race, Mr. Charest announced he is returning to private life.
Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus, whom Mr. Poilievre named his Quebec lieutenant on Tuesday, said after Monday’s Quebec caucus meeting that the gathering had gone “very well,” and that participants were “fully united.”
After Mr. Rayes’s announcement, Mr. Paul-Hus issued a statement.
“The Conservative party has always been a coalition of progressive conservatives, right wingers, libertarians and social conservatives, all united with the common purpose of making life more affordable for Canadians and defeating the extreme left Liberal-NDP coalition,” he wrote. “It is unfortunate an MP elected under the Conservative banner would ignore the will of party members and his own voters.”
Also on Tuesday, Mr. Poilievre named a Commons leadership team that included Mr. Scheer as house leader. Toronto-area MP Melissa Lantsman and Edmonton Mill Woods MP Tim Uppal were named deputy leaders.
Before Mr. Rayes’s departure, the Conservatives had 119 of 337 seats in the House of Commons. The Liberals have 158, the Bloc Québécois 32, the NDP 25, and the Green Party two. With Mr. Rayes, there are two independents.
With a report from Campbell Clark
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