A Conversation With Max Bernier

May 1st, 2016 | J. Hodgson
maxime bernier

Conservatism in Canada has taken a beating over the past year, but things may be turning around now that Brad Wall has won his third term and Brian Pallister ended the Manitoba NDP. Conservatism is on the rise in the provinces, but at the federal level it is at a crossroad. How do we move forward in the face of Justin Trudeau’s 24/7 celebrity party?

This question brings us to Maxime Bernier.

As returning Poletical visitors know, Maxime Bernier has a lot of fans here, both among our readers and our writers. We’ve written multiple articles about him and his libertarian-style conservative brand over the years. We even floated him as a leadership candidate back in 2013. An online poll we conducted that year had Bernier support for leadership at 33%. Today, you can see him winning our latest poll.

I was very happy to sit down with Mr. Bernier for the first interview we’ve had with him on the site and ask some questions about his goals, his ideas and where the Conservative Party needs to go.

Jeff Hodgson: Tell us about the state of your campaign right now.

Maxime Bernier: First of all, I can tell you that I am very happy with the reception I had when I launched my campaign. Very good positive feedback. We received a lot of emails from across the country and we are building the organization right now. People can contact me on my blog and we will have our campaign website ready on May 15th and this is also when I’ll do a speech in my riding talking about why I’m running and what my vision is for the country.

Hodgson: Your vision has some strong principles.

Bernier: I received a lot of questions when I tabled my documents to the party. I said I was running because I want to have a freer and more prosperous country. I believe in free markets and I think we must have less government in our day-to-day lives. The first question I received from the journalists was, “If you are a free market politician, then what is your position on supply management?”

I think that was a good question, because it is a contradiction to believe in supply management and free markets at the same time. I do have a position and I will explain why and I told them I will release my position in May, and my intention is to release policy positions on a regular basis after that.

Hodgson: The media tells us that there are many divisions between different types of conservatives in the Conservative Party. If you become the leader how will you balance the different interests of social conservatives, libertarians, and red tories?

Bernier: I won’t use the word “division”. We are all conservatives, we all believe in smaller government and more freedom in Canada. Other candidates can have a different point-of-view and that will be great to debate with them. But at the end-of-the-day conservatives don’t believe the government has the solution to every social challenge. Contrary to the Liberals and the NDP, we think Canadians themselves know better than the politicians or civil servants in Ottawa. Like I said in a speech...I want to shrink the government, not your paycheck. The Liberals and the NDP want to shrink your paycheck in order to expand programs, but what unites Conservatives is this belief in freedom and less government intervention and I will promote this.

Hodgson: Are social conservatives contrary to libertarians?

Bernier: Even social conservatives don’t want the state to interfere in their lives. They don’t want the government imposing social values. I was very happy to have people who want to work with my organization who told me they are social conservatives, but they like my principled position and I respect other conservative ideas.

Hodgson: What about when it comes to abortion?

Bernier: I don’t want to open the debate on abortion, but if members of my party, or another party, want to bring forward a private member’s bill then that’s their right. That’s democracy. If someone does that then we will do a free vote on it and social conservatives respect that position.

Hodgson: Right now the media is being fair to you, but when you get closer to winning the leadership they will likely be more critical as they have in the past and try to ridicule you. How are you prepared for this?

Bernier: I’m not concerned about that. When I resigned as Foreign Affairs Minister eight years ago every journalist in French and English were saying, “Bernier is dead or Bernier won’t be re-elected” and I’ve been re-elected since then with the biggest majority in Quebec. The same journalists now are saying, “Bernier is a credible candidate”. I made a mistake, I learned from that and what journalists think about me or write about me, I’m not concerned. I’ll do what I have to do and in the end the Conservative Party members will choose.

Hodgson: But the media bias is difficult for Conservatives.

Bernier: The most important thing for me is that the media will have to cover what I’m saying and what the other candidates will be saying on different issues. So if editorialists or journalists don’t agree with what I’m saying, that’s okay. I don’t want to have everybody on my side. You can win an election with 45% of the votes. I hope I will have a lot of people believing in freedom, personal responsibility and fairness and respect. These are the four themes of my campaign.

Hodgson: What do you mean by fairness and respect?

Bernier: For example, I said I’m against subsidies to GM and Bombardier, because it’s unfair for small businesses and entrepreneurs to pay taxes to fund big businesses. The government shouldn’t pick winners or losers, taxes should be lowered for everyone. As for respect, I think we need to respect the constitution, respecting provincial jurisdiction and respecting taxpayers. These are the things I will speak about.

Hodgson: Sounds like the Libertarian Party.

Bernier: My goal is to have more people becoming members of our party. The Conservative Party.  As you know a lot of people from the Libertarian Party like my candidacy. They like me being out there as a leadership option and I hope these people will sign up with the Conservative Party and vote for me.

Hodgson: Have you read Michelle Rempel’s recent piece about sexism in Ottawa for the National Post?

Bernier: Yes, I had time to read it yes.

Hodgson: Do you have a response to it?

Bernier: First of all, when you read things like that it’s not good for politicians in Ottawa. We have a code of conduct and in that code there are clauses speaking about sexual harassment. I signed that and so did all of my colleagues. This is a part of our ethical code. There’s a way to deal with this...there is a process. It’s too bad that in 2016 things like this still happen and I wish all members would respect the code of ethics.

Hodgson: Western Canadians haven’t voted in large numbers for a Quebec Prime Minister since Brian Mulroney in 1984. Is regionalism going to be a problem for you?

Bernier: No, I don’t think so, because what I believe applies to all conservatives. I’m a candidate from Quebec, but I’m a candidate for all regions. I want to grow the party in Quebec, as you know we more than doubled from five seats in Quebec to twelve and that will be my job...growing the party not only in Quebec but across the country. The values I believe in will resonate in every region across Canada.

Hodgson: It’s 2027 and we’ve had two Maxime Bernier majority governments. What does Canada look like?

Bernier: You will pay less taxes and have more money in your pocket. We’ll have a smaller federal government that will not interfere in provincial jurisdiction. A government that respects the constitution. Free trade with more countries. A more open economy. No referendum threat in Quebec. Balanced budgets with surpluses. Shrinking debt. Responsible government that responds to Canadians. Principle based policy. No more omnibus bills, I want debate. We have the best ideas and we need to share this with Canadians. We have to openly and passionately defend our principles with conviction. It’s for these things that I am running.