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.

Calgary Herald - - NP - John IvIson Na­tional Post jivi­[email protected]­tion­al­post.com Twit­ter.com/Ivi­sonJ

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.

DAR­REN CALABRESE / THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

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.

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