Maxime Bernier's Final Stretch
Maxime Bernier looks tired, but serene. It’s been a year since he announced his candidacy for leadership and it’s been a long, hard battle. A leadership race with such a long time frame has been a grind on all the candidates and many seem to have effectively given up, resigning themselves to positioning for a future cabinet position based on the moxie shown to even run in the first place. As Poletical’s leadership tracker has shown and as our writer’s board endorsed back in March, the only real race is now between Maxime Bernier and Andrew Scheer and (to a slightly lesser extent) Erin O’Toole. The last week of the campaign wraps up with a race to the finish and Maxime Bernier is not slowing down.
After a glorious introduction by Alberta’s Wildrose libertarian provocateur, Derek Fildebrandt, Maxime Bernier took to the microphone and tried one last time to convince Alberta that he was the best man for the Prime Minister’s Office. The crowd in Strathmore was polite and friendly, but one could sense a frustration with the party. Almost a skeptical resignation that true conservatism is likely unattainable. One man in the crowd stood up and told Bernier that he needs to be as active as possible in his first term, no matter what, because we can’t keep being told that the next term will be the one where real things start to happen.
Harper once promised that if electors gave him a mandate, we wouldn’t recognize this country when he’s through with it. Harper had ten years and although he has many achievements to his credit, Canada wasn’t left or transformed as many conservatives hoped it would be. The blame doesn’t just lie with Harper, but many people feel it was a let down. George from Bragg Creek blames Harper…
“Conservatives never prepared for someone other than Harper to take over. Whether it was complacency or arrogance or whatever the case, the fact is Trudeau came from nowhere to a majority and that is unforgivable,” he said to me after the event.
The fact that Trudeau felt emboldened to hit the ground running and fully implement a Liberal agenda, with smug and brazen arrogance, is all the more galling for Conservative supporters, accustomed over the years to Harper-style incrementalism. That incrementalism felt justifiable at the time, but as more time passes since that era, it looks more like a squandered opportunity.
Maxime Bernier senses it too. The time for boldness has arrived.
“People like politicians that tell the truth and offer no compromise with our principles. We’re not trying to please everyone. What I’ve learned travelling the country is that you don’t need to change your message. That’s why I’m the front runner,” Bernier told me after the event.
I asked him which of his policies resonated with people the most.
“People like my economic platform and my attack on corporate welfare. They know I believe in free markets and there are no “buts”. They like the policy of abolishing supply management. And people also wanted to know about my CBC policy. I don’t want to privatize the CBC, I just want a more PBS-style model. Those are the policies that people liked best...economic policy overall, ending corporate welfare, abolishing supply management, and dealing with the CBC,” he said.
I asked him why his campaign is so successful. We talked over the phone a year ago and at that time many people were skeptical. Today he’s in the lead. Did this momentum surprise him?
“Some people who’ve known me over the past ten years know that I’m saying the same things as I did back then. My goal at the beginning of the campaign was to be where I am today. There’s still eight days left and I’m going to continue campaigning.”
And campaigning he did…
He spoke in a cattle auction auditorium and took question after question from the audience. One man asked about his military policy...an issue that Erin O’Toole has dominated for the past six months. Bernier committed to spending 2% of GDP on the military, but phasing it in over seven years.
Another question was about the refugee crisis. Bernier reiterated that he’d like to see more private sponsorships and keep the level at 25,000 refugees a year. This wasn’t well received.
Another question was about abolishing the RCMP as provincial police forces and making them function more like the FBI. Another question was about demographics and how it’s almost impossible to reach 4% GDP growth in Canada due to our aging population. Another question was about downloading the costs of healthcare onto the provinces. Another question about the housing bubble forming in Vancouver and Toronto. It was a barrage of complicated issues and Bernier, having been hammered like steel in a forge over the past year, was able to navigate all of them. The Q&A did reveal the complexities of running as a conservative in any capacity, however, it’s just so much easier to promise everybody everything and let the feel good wave drive up the polls. This has led to “camouflage conservatism” in Canada and meekness has been a model for far too long.
Bernier’s boldness is admirable and if he wins the leadership on May 27, it will be another epic endurance race trying to educate the country about the value of freedom and responsibility. With a looming recession and a spend-thrift Liberal government in power, his timing might be just about right to usher in the second phase of the Conservative Party story. Perhaps Harper’s promise of making Canada unrecognizable will be Bernier’s providence to fulfill.