IT IS POSSIBLE BERNIER WILL GO ON TO GREAT THINGS. IT IS MORE LIKELY HE WILL END UP IN OBSCURITY. THE REAL DANGER IS HE WILL CONDEMN THE CONSERVATIVES TO FOUR MORE YEARS AS THE OPPOSITION. IVISON.
Maxime Bernier sees himself as a latter day Lucien Bouchard or Preston Manning — someone so disillusioned with the traditional federal parties he starts his own movement and watches it catch fire, as Bouchard did with the Bloc Québécois and Manning did with the Reform Party.
Both ended up as leader of the official opposition after identifying a gap in the electoral market that neither the Progressive Conservatives of the day, nor the Liberals, were servicing.
It’s possible that Bernier will repeat their successes — certainly his position on diversity has many conservatives nodding their assent. In a speech Thursday afternoon in Ottawa in which he announced his split from the Conservative Party he’s served as an MP since 2006, he tried to clarify that he’s “not against” diversity, but that the goal must be unity and shared Canadian values — a message that resonates with many right-of-centre Canadians fed up with pandering and identity politics.
Others admire him for being true to himself and sticking to what he calls “core Conservative principles.” Some remain upset that Scheer was elected party leader last year by what Bernier called “fake Conservatives” who signed up as party members to block Bernier’s candidacy for the top job because of his opposition to supply management.
Bernier said Thursday his new party is in an embryonic stage. It has no members or organizational structure as yet. But it’s possible that his promise to do politics differently will capture the imagination of enough people frustrated by the stifling political correctness of the Trudeau years, that they cement the legend of Mad Max and create a new, dystopian political landscape where the old parties are vanquished.
On the other hand, it’s much more likely that he will follow in the footsteps of his father, Gilles — a two-time Progressive Conservative MP in Quebec’s Beauce region, who won re-election as an independent after Kim Campbell blocked his nomination for the party before obscurity knocked after a term sitting next to the interpreters in the House of Commons.
Bernier has departed from the Conservatives in dramatic fashion, saying the party is “too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed.” This is the same party he sought to lead last year; the same party on whose platform he has run in four successive elections. The Harper Conservatives supported supply management; they nationalized two auto companies; they pioneered the equalization formula Bernier now finds so objectionable and they even set up an economic development agency for southern Ontario. True, he chafed under Harper’s leadership — but mainly because he was demoted from foreign affairs minister to a fringe cabinet position after a security breach in 2008 in which he left secret documents at the home of his then girlfriend.
There’s no doubt Bernier believes in free markets and opposes the chicken-andegg cartel. But he has parked those principles for over a decade in the pursuit of political ambition.
He said he made his decision to leave nine days ago, after talking to Andrew Scheer and realizing he “didn’t have any place in that party.” Yet as Harper suggested in a tweet in the wake of Bernier’s announcement, “It is clear Max never accepted the result of the leadership vote.”
Bernier relies on the photosynthesis of publicity and he was never destined to do well in the dark as an opposition backbencher.
Scheer, the man who beat Bernier for the leadership, gave an uninspiring response Thursday afternoon, claiming his former rival has chosen to help Justin Trudeau rather than the Conservative caucus. The situation demanded that Scheer show some passion and boldly refute Bernier’s charge that his party has become intellectually and morally corrupt. Instead, he sounded monotone and looked colourless, a grey suit against a grey backdrop.
Worse, he validated Bernier’s claim that he is influenced unduly by external factors like polls when he concluded by saying his party will defend “our history, our culture and our national identity” — a line that might have come from Bernier’s resignation speech.
It appears the MP from Beauce will have more influence on Conservative messaging outside the party than he had in it.
It really is too early to say what the impact of Bernier’s coup d’etat will have on the electoral map. The only public research previously conducted on voter preferences that included a Maxime Bernier-led libertarian party suggested minimal damage to the Conservatives. (Polling on such a scenario last year, Abacus Data recorded support of 28 per cent for the Liberals, 20 per cent for the Conservatives and just 2 per cent for the then-hypothetical Bernier-led party.) But since then, the issues of diversity, multiculturalism and immigration have jumped up the agenda, which is why Bernier has been banging on about them.
The Conservatives cannot afford to be complacent about the prospect of a split in the party. History shows that Conservatives only win when the right is united — in the past 40 years the party has averaged 38-per-cent support in elections where it was united, but that number was cleaved in half during the three elections when it was split.
Bernier has promised to do politics differently. “I will find another way to give voice to millions of Canadians,” he said Thursday. For some Conservatives, tired of the paranoia of being called racist by the Liberals, Bernier is a man of courage and conviction.
But they will have to weigh the age-old dilemma: do they prefer protest or power?
If the latter, they should be cautious — because the net effect of supporting Bernier could be four more years of Justin Trudeau.
Leader Andrew Scheer met the media in Halifax Thursday at the Conservative national convention, where he blasted his former rival, Maxime Bernier, for leaving the party.