Find­ing Bernier a role may not be easy

If the Con­ser­va­tives want to re­turn to power, they must pre­vent Justin Trudeau from re­build­ing the Que­bec fortress that en­sured his fa­ther’s po­lit­i­cal longevity

Cape Breton Post - - Editorial - Chan­tal Hébert National Af­fairs Chan­tal Hebert is a national af­fairs writer with Torstar Syn­di­ca­tion Ser­vices.

One of An­drew Scheer’s first and most del­i­cate as­sign­ments as Con­ser­va­tive leader will be to find a proper place in his team for run­ner-up Maxime Bernier. That may be eas­ier said than done.

That Scheer has an in­ter­est in keep­ing Bernier happy is not re­ally de­bat­able.

The Beauce MP may not have a lot of diehard fans in the Con­ser­va­tive cau­cus. But the fact re­mains that about one in two party mem­bers sup­ported Bernier for the lead­er­ship, in­clud­ing a ma­jor­ity in Al­berta and Que­bec.

In Bernier’s home province, the big news out of Saturday’s lead­er­ship vote was his de­feat, not Scheer’s vic­tory.

Bernier is one of the party’s most valu­able play­ers on the fundrais­ing cir­cuit. None of his cau­cus ri­vals, in­clud­ing Scheer, came close to match­ing the amount of money his cam­paign col­lected over the past year.

By all ac­counts he will not be an easy fit for one of the lead­ing eco­nomic critic roles. Be­yond his un­der­stand­able dis­ap­point­ment at the out­come of the lead­er­ship vote, Bernier has never been good at fol­low­ing a party script.

This is a politi­cian who has ad­mit­ted to hav­ing had de­cid­edly mixed feel­ings about be­ing as­signed the pres­ti­gious for­eign af­fairs post in Stephen Harper’s govern­ment.

Bernier would rather have had a port­fo­lio that al­lowed him a larger mea­sure of in­de­pen­dence from the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice. And in his time out of the cabi­net, he did not al­ways toe the govern­ment line.

He has also spent the past year pro­mot­ing poli­cies that are un­likely to be part of Scheer’s elec­tion game plan.

Would, for in­stance, the new Con­ser­va­tive leader want a fi­nance critic who would like the fed­eral govern­ment to re­place the health trans­fer with tax points so as to leave the fu­ture of Medi­care en­tirely at the dis­cre­tion of the prov­inces?

And who would push for the fed­eral ap­proach to equal­iza­tion to be re­vis­ited so as to give the have-not prov­inces more “in­cen­tives” to grow their economies?

The party spent the Harper decade en­sur­ing that it did not get la­belled an ad­vo­cate of a two-tier health-care sys­tem. And few is­sues have more po­ten­tial to bring the po­lit­i­cal class of At­lantic Canada to the bar­ri­cades than a de­bate over equal­iza­tion.

Or would Scheer, whose vic­tory was fa­cil­i­tated by a lobby of dairy farm­ers, be com­fort­able with Bernier as an in­ter­na­tional trade critic, af­ter the lat­ter has urged Canada, on the record, to do away with its sup­ply man­age­ment sys­tem in ex­change for a deal with the U.S. on soft­wood lum­ber?

Could Bernier serve as in­dus­try critic if his long-held con­tention that the fed­eral govern­ment should get out of cor­po­rate wel­fare is not Con­ser­va­tive pol­icy? At the time of the global fi­nan­cial cri­sis, Harper’s de­ci­sion to bail out the On­tario auto in­dus­try went a long way to pave the road to a Con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity in the 2011 elec­tion. And Bom­bardier, for all its woes, is still an ap­ple of the eye of many Que­bec vot­ers.

One job Bernier is un­likely to be vy­ing for is that of Que­bec lieu­tenant. He has never had much of a col­le­gial re­la­tion­ship with his Que­bec col­leagues, and he is a po­lar­iz­ing fig­ure in his home province.

The qua­sicer­tainty that his former ri­val will not want the lead po­lit­i­cal role in Que­bec should come as a re­lief to Scheer, for rarely has a Con­ser­va­tive leader had more need for a bridge­build­ing lieu­tenant.

The new leader’s pro­file in Que­bec is vir­tu­ally non-ex­is­tent. His so­cial con­ser­va­tive roots will not stand him in good stead in a province whose collective take on is­sues, such as abor­tion rights, same-sex mar­riage and med­i­cally as­sisted sui­cide, is de­cid­edly lib­eral.

The no­tion that Scheer is a smil­ing ver­sion of Harper will do lit­tle to com­mend him to an elec­torate that has con­sis­tently given the former prime min­is­ter and his poli­cies the cold shoul­der.

The Con­ser­va­tives may have won a ma­jor­ity govern­ment in 2011 with only min­i­mal Que­bec sup­port, but that was back in the days when the province had soured on the Lib­er­als.

Over the Harper years, the Bloc Que­be­cois, and then the New Democrats, dom­i­nated the province.

To­day the first is in an ir­re­versible tail­spin and the sec­ond is about to trade a leader with a big Que­bec pro­file for a suc­ces­sor with a much smaller one.

If the Con­ser­va­tives want to re­turn to power, they must pre­vent Justin Trudeau from re­build­ing the Que­bec fortress that en­sured his fa­ther’s po­lit­i­cal longevity.

On that score Scheer has his work cut out for him.

The last Leger Mar­ket­ing poll, done shortly be­fore the lead­er­ship vote, gave the Lib­er­als a 40point lead on the Con­ser­va­tives in Que­bec.

The gap in­creased by three points un­der the ten­ta­tive sce­nario of a Scheer lead­er­ship vic­tory.


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