By Jonathon Van Maren
Quebec MP Maxime Bernier, who narrowly lost the leadership of the Conservative Party to Andrew Scheer, has announced in a scathing press conference that he will be leaving the Conservative caucus to launch his own right-wing party, which for now appears to exist primarily in his own head. In a barrage of criticism aimed at both Andrew Scheer and the Conservative Party that excoriated their position on supply management as well as their apparent kow-towing to multiculturalism, Bernier told reporters that, “I have come to realize over the past year that this party is too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed.”
He went on: “Andrew Scheer keeps talking about his ‘positive Conservative vision.’ But nobody knows what that vision is. The Conservative Party has abandoned conservatives. It does not represent them anymore. And it has nothing of substance to offer Canadians looking for a political alternative. If we want conservative principles to win the battle of ideas, we have to defend them openly, with passion and conviction.” Obviously, Bernier thinks that he’s the guy to do that. A few thoughts:
- This is very obviously all about Maxime Bernier, and nobody else. After all, Bernier’s criticisms could have easily applied to Stephen Harper’s leadership, as well, but back then Bernier was at least somewhat part of the “in-crowd.” In fact, it was Harper who constantly stomped out dissent and hammered down on MPs who stepped out of line—and it was Andrew Scheer who, as Speaker of the House, defended the right of pro-life MPs to have their voices heard. Bernier’s supposedly principled libertarianism was nowhere to be found during that period. Bernier is obviously still smarting from his leadership loss and has decided that he wants his own party, just like Derek Fildebrandt’s decision to start up a competitor to Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party in Alberta. Coming before the 2019 platform is laid out and before the convention in Halifax has concluded, this just looks egotistical and petty.
- Bernier just lost a lot of respect and made a lot of enemies within the space of about fifteen minutes. If he’s been planning to leave the Conservative Party for over a week already and waited until the convention to announce his departure to maximize the damage to Andrew Scheer’s leadership, his actions can only be described as spiteful. Unless he’s delusional, Bernier has to know that he’ll never be prime minister. This move makes it look as if he’s determined to make sure that Scheer doesn’t get the job, either. Which leaves us, of course, with Justin Trudeau, who has had a lousy year—but appears to be ending the summer with some great news for his 2019 prospects. Gerald Butts is probably grinning like a Cheshire cat at the moment.
- Bernier has been in politics for far too long to think that he can get a viable party up and running by the 2019 election, especially considering the fact that he has no infrastructure, volunteers, or money. He doesn’t even have any candidates, although I’m betting Derek Fildebrandt is busy trying to get a hold of him as I write this. So again: What’s the point of all this? Bernier worked alongside many of these people for years—why the sudden display of sour grapes combined with a scathing broadside against a party he was supposed to assist in rebuilding? He managed to find ways to work with conservatives (and even supposed shills for the “dairy cartel”) for years. Why does he suddenly find himself driven by an inescapable moral imperative now?
- Doug Ford has already sent out a tweet condemning the move, and other conservative politicians across the country will be sure to follow. With conservative parties making a comeback in the provinces and Justin Trudeau’s government constantly flopping onto its face, there won’t be much appetite to risk defeat-by-vote-splitting, even with those who genuinely prefer Bernier to Scheer and secretly think that some of his critiques are accurate. Just ask Albertans—from libertarians to social conservatives—what the cost of vote-splitting has been for three long years. Bernier could not have picked a worse time to launch his little vanity project—and there’s going to be plenty of people in the right-of-centre universe who will want to make him pay for it.
I’ll be honest, I think that Bernier is right when he says that the Conservative Party is far too cautious on many things, and that they often seem afraid to defend anything that is truly small-c conservative. But that doesn’t change the fact that the way Bernier has chosen to address this just looks like a petty, egotistical case of sour grapes—and one that is profoundly counter-productive for the issues he claims to care about so much.