Conservatives names former mayor to face Maxime Bernier in Beauce in 2019

MONTREAL - Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer announced Saturday that he's chosen a former local mayor and agricultural entrepreneur to face Quebec MP Maxime Bernier in the 2019 election.

Speaking in Saint-Elzear, Que., Scheer named Richard Lehoux, the former president of an association of Quebec municipalities and the town's longtime mayor, as the candidate in the Beauce riding.

Lehoux will take on the task of challenging Bernier, the outspoken former Conservative leadership candidate who quit the party over the summer and has since become one of its loudest critics.

Scheer did not mention Bernier by name on Saturday, choosing instead to aim his criticism at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

But he claimed the Conservative party was the only one capable of defeating Trudeau's Liberals in next year's federal election.

``If you want to change governments in 2019, you have to vote Conservative, by marking an 'X' next to Richard Lehoux,'' he said to cheers.

Bernier announced in September that he's starting his own party, the People's Party of Canada, to represent those who reject political interference by special interest groups, cartels and lobbyists.

Lehoux served as Saint-Elzear's mayor for 19 years before leaving the post to return to agriculture in 2017. He describes himself as a former dairy producer and said on Saturday that he obtained his first Conservative Party membership card in the 1980s.

In a speech, Lehoux said the Conservative party was the best one to lead the Beauce region's farmers and entrepreneurs, who he described as fiercely independent and ``strangled'' by state bureaucracy.

``We (Conservative party members) count on the personal responsibility of individuals and don't throw obstacles in their path, so they can develop,'' he said to the partisan crowd, which included several mayors from the region who had come to support him.

Bernier was quick to react to the candidature, taking to Twitter to criticize Lehoux's connection to what he called the ``dairy cartel.''

In an interview with The Canadian Press, he said he wasn't surprised Scheer had chosen a dairy producer to face him, given the leader's support of supply management.

He said Lehoux's priority would be ``defending the privilege of the cartel,'' and said he looked forward to debating him on the issue.

``I'm looking forward to have a debate in Beauce about his privilege, and why he wants people to pay twice the price for milk, poultry and eggs,'' he said in a phone interview.

The Beauce MP quit the Conservative party in August amid disagreements with Scheer on a number of issues, including Canada's supply management system.

He has said his new political formation will be ready to compete in the 2019 election.