Former Conservative finance critic Ed Fast says he stepped down from the role earlier this week to “speak freely” after some of his fellow MPs tried to “muzzle” his criticism of leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre.
In an email sent through Jean Charest’s leadership campaign, which Fast is co-chairing, the longtime Abbotsford MP said Poilievre’s supporters in the Conservative caucus told Fast to “just shut up” after he criticized Poilievre’s pledge to fire the Bank of Canada governor over high inflation.
“Some of the MPs who tried to muzzle me don’t even agree with Pierre’s policies themselves,” Fast wrote in the email. “But still, they wanted me to keep my mouth shut. I refused.”
He said he then asked Interim Leader Candice Bergen to relieve him of his duties as shadow finance minister “so that I can speak freely about the risky and wrong-headed policies being promoted” by Poilievre.
“That wasn’t my first choice,” Fast wrote. “But I can’t do my job and stand up for Canada if Pierre and his team won’t allow me to exercise my right to free speech.”
In an interview with Global News late Friday, Fast made sure to underscore that Bergen did not pressure him to resign and was not part of any efforts to silence him.
“This matter had been brewing for some time,” he said. “We discussed the difficulty of the role that I was in, and the untenable nature of that role as Pierre Poilievre’s surrogates put more and more pressure on me to keep my mouth shut.
“Eventually, she and I came to the same conclusion, and she accepted my request to be relieved of my responsibilities.”
He added he had tried to submit his resignation as finance critic weeks ago, but he had been urged to stay on.
Poilievre, the projected frontrunner to become the party’s next leader, did not respond directly to Fast’s accusations Friday. Instead, he shared his statement from Wednesday dismissing criticism of his proposal to fire the bank’s governor as merely political elites attacking his message.
“Ed Fast and Jean Charest would have no problem firing a waitress or welder for not doing their jobs. But they won’t do the same for a big shot banker whose failures have cost our people a fortune,” Poilievre said in the statement.
Fast criticized Poilievre’s attacks on the Bank of Canada to reporters as he was heading into a Conservative caucus meeting on Wednesday, saying interfering with the central bank’s independence hurts the party’s credibility on economic issues.
Within hours, the party issued a statement from Bergen announcing that Fast was stepping down from the finance critic post. The statement said Fast “would like to be able to offer more dedicated support” to Charest’s campaign.
Fast said Friday he would not discuss what was said behind closed doors at that meeting, or how multiple MPs’ support of Poilievre is impacting the caucus.
But he described what he saw as a desire of Poilievre’s camp to “suppress the views of anyone other than their candidate.”
“I think they may have originally thought this would be a coronation, and it looks like it definitely won’t be that,” he said.
Fast endorsed Charest for the Conservative leadership in late March, but remained the party’s top critic on the economy. He replaced Poilievre in the role after the Carleton MP decided to run for the leadership in February.
Fast insists his criticism of Poilievre’s attacks on the Bank of Canada and promotion of cryptocurrencies is rooted in policy, not in a desire to sway the leadership race.
“I had stayed relatively quiet because I respect all of my colleagues who are in the race and those who are not yet colleagues,” he said.
“But I could not remain silent when I heard (Poilievre’s comments). … This is about a policy difference that we as Conservatives should be speaking up on.”
Conservative Party sources who spoke to Global News on Wednesday lamented Fast’s stepping down as “another blow to fiscal conservatives and moderates navigating a party that is increasingly polarized and divided.”
Other prominent Conservative MPs have been vocal about their support for other leadership candidates.
Michelle Rempel Garner, the former natural resources and health critic, has endorsed Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown and is working for his campaign, which has recently pressed Poilievre to issue statements denouncing racists and white supremacists in the wake of the racially motivated mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., last weekend.
— with files from Global News’ Alex Boutilier and The Canadian Press