The virtue of a Bernier leadership is that he can retain the support of the Albertan Conservative while adding many Quebecois to the Tory tent; something that Harper would, unfortunately, forever be incapable of doing.
The leadership race for the Conservative Party of Canada is beginning to heat up. In the midst of the fray, thirteen candidates stand, two have withdrawn, and the ever-present threat of an O’Leary entrance looms.
Among the original fifteen candidates are former Speaker of the House, Andrew Scheer; current Opposition Critic for Canada-U.S. Relations, Brad Trost; former Minister for Transport, Labour, and Natural Resources, Lisa Raitt; former Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Chris Alexander; former Minister of Labour and the Status of Women, Kellie Leitch; Deputy Shadow Minister of the Environment, Michael Chong; and former Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism, Foreign Affairs, and Industry, Maxime Bernier.
As front-benchers and back-benchers bicker, Canadian business mogul, Kevin O’Leary, critiques from afar, flirting with the idea of entering the race. At the Conservative Convention earlier this year, O’Leary seemed almost adamant that he would throw his hat in. However, in a recent interview on CTV, O’Leary admitted to largely agreeing with current leadership candidate Maxime Bernier. “It’s hard to beat him up when I endorse what he’s doing”, O’Leary said, “If I end up competing with this guy, it’s going to be difficult because he has a lot of good ideas.”
Conservatives should pray that Kevin O’Leary does not enter the race, and, instead, pledges support to Bernier.
The case for Maxime Bernier as the harbinger of the new Canadian Conservative movement, and a pallbearer of the Harper legacy should be clear. Bernier is not a mere Member of Parliament, ready to come of age and seek the leadership of his party, but also a principled Conservative, a consistent Libertarian, and a Francophone Canadian.
Bernier could responsibly be described as, among many other things, the most ‘Conservative’ candidate in the leadership race. And, as a result, his current lead in the race should not be surprising. Although Bernier brings a lot of unconventional policies to the aging Conservative agenda, he still retains many of the classical Conservative tenets. Among them, a staunch criticism of Quebec Bill 101, unwavering support for gun owners, and a disdain for corporate welfare. Under Bernier, Canada would have a small government in every arena of life (provided he keeps his word and institutes policies as prescribed).
Speaking on the topic of corporate welfare at the 2016 Manning Centre Conference, Bernier said “It’s not the job of the government to give money to businesses.” Emphasizing the difference between Conservatism and Corporatism inasmuch as Conservatism demands a separation between the private and public sector is a winning issue. Bernier is smart to use it, and the Conservative Party would be wise to nominate Bernier provided he retains this consistency.
When it comes to gun rights, there is strength in the policies of Maxime Bernier. His position states that “[gun owners] shouldn’t have to worry about having their property reclassified and confiscated.” And like a true John Locke-ian, his website states “Property rights should be respected.” Bernier supports replacing the Firearms Act with more effective legislation that not only secures the rights of gun owners but also cracks down on criminals. Of course, this is easier said than done, but at least his policy is strong at this point.
On the question of Bill 101, which legislatively defines French as the official language of Quebec, Bernier is a critic. Like the average anglophone conservative, Bernier finds the concept to be appalling. In a 2011 article in the National Post, he made clear his belief that the government should not infringe on individual freedom to protect its culture and language. This position gels nicely with the common Conservative stance that Canadians in Quebec are Canadians first, Quebecers second, and that an overemphasis of French identity takes away from Canadian unity.
While appealing to the typical Canadian Conservative, Maxime Bernier may also find support in unexpected places as “the libertarian candidate for Tory leadership”. Due to Bernier’s Libertarian qualities, there is a strong possibility that he could pull support from not only the Liberal Party, but also the NDP or Green Party.
Being in favour of certain issues – marijuana legalization, for example – renders such issues obsolete when it comes to an election. It would not be ridiculous to claim that in the 2015 election, Justin Trudeau benefitted from immense support from young people, at least in part, due to his pro-marijuana stance. In an election where all parties are in favour of something popular, it becomes a non-issue. As a result, voters would be forced to decide mostly between the weak fiscal policies of Liberalism and the opposite with the Conservatives.
And if the issue of drug legalization is not merely enough to attract young progressives, perhaps his position on the Saudi Arms deal and foreign intervention is. Bernier supports the cancellation of the deal, and also did not support the Iraq War. Both positions, usually associated with left-of-centre political parties, could potentially pull left wing Canadians towards a Bernier-led Conservative party.
Although there is obvious electability potential in combining Libertarian social policy with conventional Conservatism, Bernier does not seem to simply be capitalizing on a political opportunity. He sounds like he truly holds small-government convictions, and that is what is so appealing about him. As Prime Minister, Bernier says he will bring a “more decentralized federalism, a smaller government less involved in Canadians’ day-to-day lives, as well as more personal freedoms”. If that is not an allusion to the late Barry Goldwater, what is?
Despite this, his Libertarianism may not even be the most electable quality of Maxime Bernier. Instead, it may be his Quebec roots and his French accent.
The elephant in the room that no Conservative seems to be talking about is the importance of Quebec. It is a huge province in Canadian elections, offering 75 seats in the House of Commons. That means it has almost three times as many seats as British Columbia; or more than Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, P.E.I., Nunavut, Yukon, and the Northwest Territories combined. Despite its importance, Conservatives have almost never done well in the province. Usually, the Liberals, NDP, and Bloc Québécois battle for ridings in Quebec, reaping the rewards of copious amounts of MPs being elected from the province.
Quebec is an opportunity that Conservatives can no longer afford to give up and ignore. There are seats to be had in the province, and it is suicidal for the party not to even make an effort to claim any.
Maxime Bernier’s experience as not only an MP, but also as a Cabinet Minister is without question. Under Harper, he served as Minister of Industry, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism. And he has served as the Member of Parliament for the riding of Beauce, Quebec for 10 years; being elected four elections in a row. Qualification should be no issue in his campaign.
The virtue of a Bernier leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada is that, as a candidate, Bernier can retain the support of the Albertan Conservative while adding many Quebecois to the Conservative tent; something that Stephen Harper would, unfortunately, forever be incapable of doing.
For better or for worse, at the end of this leadership race, the Conservative Party is going to be changed. With this in mind, Conservatives should embrace the fusionism that Bernier offer between Libertarians, Conservatives, and Progressives, as well as Albertans and Quebecers.