So, Maxime Bernier wants to start a new party, does he? Good luck with that … opinion seems divided on his prospects for success. What does seem sure is that his defection is a boon for Prime Minister Trudeau … that simple fact cannot be denied.
New political movements are nothing new in Canada … both Western Canada and Quebec have long histories of starting new parties ~ often from a narrow base. It’s not always easy ~ the Bloc Québécois started off with a bang in 1993 but has, essentially withered and, perhaps died, just 25 years later. Maxime Bernier might want to have a chat with Danielle Smith about the difficulties of running a break-away political movement, even when you have a notoriously strong work ethic. There is no doubt, Ms Smith says, that M. Bernier’s messages resonate with many conservatives but, unless he takes over an established political party (perhaps the Libertarian Party?) the prospects of turning a one-man revolt into a viable political party in less than a year is daunting.
Of course, new parties can, and sometimes do, mature into mainstream parties; in the 1930s and ’40s men like JS Woodsworth, MJ Coldwell and TC Douglas …
… led the CCF which was the base of today’s NDP. And it must be remembered that today’s Conservative Party of Canada is the product of the remnant of the old Progressive Conservatives* and Preston Manning’s Reform Party which came into being when too many Canadians were, simply, sick and tired of of the kinds of special interest politics that both Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney practiced. Mr Manning promised, some might remember, to “do politics differently” and he assembled a team that included e.g. the redoubtable Deborah Grey, Calgary lawyer Diane Ablonczy and a University of Calgary graduate student named Stephen Harper, and in 1993 over two million Canadians voted to elect 52 Reform Party members of parliament ~ and Canadian politics was reshaped in a quite fundamental way by both Manning and Lucien Bouchard.
But there was always a whiff of the revival tent in the old CCF, and also faint traces of anti-semitism in the BQ, and the religious right had strength in the Reform and Canadian Alliance parties. That served the electoral interests of the Liberals, above all others, because only the Liberals could be seen as a true, moderate “big tent party” until Prime Minister Harper effectively sidelined the religious right in the new CPC after 2006. So, I suspect, might there be some ideological worries about any movement Maxime Bernier might start. He is, I am quite sure, a moderate libertarian and a social moderate, too but I suspect that any new movement he starts will be tarred, by both Conservatives and Liberals, as being too far to the ideological right for Canada.
My guess, only days into M. Bernier’s new adventure, is that he will, in fact, bring some, perhaps only temporary unity to the Conservative Party of Canada but, he has, also, shone a bright light on the fact ~ and I think it is a fact ~ that Mr Scheer is seen by many as being just a somewhat more moderate, more responsible version of Justin Trudeau and not an ‘alternative,’ at all. That will unsettle some Conservatives. Gary Mason, writing in the Globe and Mail, says that “Whether you agree or not with the manner in which Mr. Bernier expressed his feelings about the government’s current policies, the sentiment would have struck a chord with many Canadians.”
But we have, as Andrew Coyne says, in the National Post, reached a point, in 2018, where we, voters, have “entrenched progressivism as the default mode of Canadian politics.” As Stephen Harper understood, if the extremes in the Conservatives’ big tent (which includes the religious right and libertarians like Maxime Bernier) are not stifled then the Liberals will almost always win unless or until they shoot themselves in the foot as Pierre Trudeau did in 1984 and as Jean Chretien did in 2002, when the sponsorship scandal was revealed by the Auditor General. Mr Coyne suggests that “An upstart conservative party, more robust in its advocacy, might play the same role as the NDP on the left, pushing out the boundaries of acceptable opinion and freeing the established Conservative Party to compete more aggressively for the median voter — in part by pulling the median to the right” ~ it’s important to say that might is the operative word there.
I have written before about there being room for a political party to the right of the CPC. I was thinking of a way to accommodate the religious right/social conservative wing but this …
… based on Andrew Coyne’s notion, might work, too. Once again the operative word is might.
Andrew Scheer is putting a, predictably, sunny face on the situation, emphasizing that the Conservative Party is trying to maintain its centrist/centre-right position, but no one, especially no Conservative, should deny that Michael DeAdder, drawing in the Toronto Star, has it about right:
For the moment, at least, Maxime Bernier has, as given, as they say in tennis, “Advantage: Trudeau.“
I doubt that a new or renewed libertarian party will do serious harm to the Conservative base but it has shone a light a problem for the CPC: a lack of any big, exciting policy ideas. It’s time to have some, because 2018 is half over. Big ideas might unite the right, again … or they might give Maxime Bernier something to campaign with if they are only his big ideas.
* Which was, itself a (1920s) amalgamation of the established Conservative Party and the essentially agrarian/free trade Progressive Party which elected members from the West and Ontario.