IN HALIFAX, ANGER AND A SHOW OF PARTY UNITY
‘I DON’T THINK IT’S SERIOUS ... IT’S A JOKE’
There was neither a sense of panic nor impending doom among Conservatives in the hours after Maxime Bernier burned bridges with his party and announced he would form his own.
The mood at the Halifax Convention Centre where the rank-and-file had gathered for a policy convention seemed more angry than tense. Rolling their eyes, delegates exchanged sarcastic remarks with one another about how Bernier hadn’t shown his face. “What an a-hole,” one person was heard to say. Another remarked that he lacked “cojones.”
Bernier didn’t go to Halifax, holding an Ottawa press conference Thursday to announce he was no longer a Conservative. He accused the party of being “too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed,” citing his views on ending supply management and corporate welfare.
No high-profile conservative in the country fell into line behind him, but there was a clear desire to send a message of solidarity for leader Andrew Scheer — as Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said on social media, Canadian conservatives can point to a plethora of recent examples showing why it’s electorally better to stay united.
In Halifax, Scheer framed Bernier’s choice as “help” for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “In retrospect,” he said, “it is clear that Maxime made this decision a long time ago.”
He “is more interested in advancing his personal profile than advancing Conservative principles,” said Scheer.
“He has decided that he is more important than his Conservative colleagues and indeed the Conservative party.”
During the opening ceremonies of the policy convention on Thursday evening, the crowd gave Scheer a standing ovation.
Bernier had narrowly lost the Conservative leadership election to Scheer in May 2017, despite earning frontrunner status with support from the party’s libertarianleaning members and from a contingent of new fans. In the days leading up to the leadership vote, Bernier and his team had seemed to take his victory for granted.
“It is clear that Max never accepted the result of the leadership vote and seeks only to divide Conservatives,” former prime minister Stephen Harper said on Twitter.
Stockwell Day, in an interview on CBC, said, “When you have something as fractious as this happening, the real noise, that popping sound, is probably champagne corks at Mr. Trudeau’s house right now.”
Liberal representatives attending the convention as observers were keen to speak with as many journalists as possible, offering their perspective on the “divisive politics” of both Bernier and the party he has left.
But among delegates at the convention centre, few seemed to take Bernier all that seriously — least of all Jason Kenney, who has just successfully run several campaigns to unite conservative factions in Alberta.
“This is more about his ego than the party,” the United Conservative Party leader said of Bernier, noting that when they served together in Harper’s cabinet, the Beauce, Que., MP was always happy to toe the party line even if he had lost policy arguments in cabinet. “Max has done that for over a decade in politics, until he lost the leadership.”
Bernier put himself on the margins of the party and failed to gather much support even from his colleagues in Quebec, Kenney said. “If he couldn’t even persuade his closest colleagues to support his policy direction, then how could he expect to form a new party? I don’t think it’s serious. I think it’s a joke.”
Conservative MP James Bezan agreed. “You know, if you actually sit down and talk to the man, you see that other than putting on a nice suit there’s not much there. So his ability to lead a new party is, I think, slim and none,” he said.
Bezan posited that Bernier doesn’t even come up with his own policies — that it’s his “handlers” who do that for him. He said Bernier never consulted other MPs on his ideas, and never stood up to the microphone during caucus meetings, “except if he wants to apologize for something that he’s already said or tweeted about.”
If the man was serious then he would’ve shown up in Halifax, “fighting for the policies he believes in,” Bezan said.
HE HAS DECIDED THAT HE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN ... THE CONSERVATIVE PARTY.