Bernier at the Albany Club
One of the most pleasant things about Canadian politics is the small-town aspect of it — if you are a doggedly engaged citizen, you really _can_ meet just about anyone.
Today, I got to meet Maxime Bernier.
More to come on the morning…
His speech was much as Andrew Coyne has described it — a ringing endorsement of libertarian conservative principles, complete with Ronald Reagan quotes and a push-back against JFK’s “ask not what your country can do for you” line. He is calling for an end to government growth — full stop, no adjustments for inflation, just a cap on government spending.
The speech itself is decent, not great. Maxime is still working on his English, and this comes through in his prepared remarks — the emphasis is slightly off. His call to govern in the interests of the “silent majority” is well taken, and his main point is one that desperately needs making, but his presentation is still a work in progress, in terms of really connecting with the crowd. Which is, I should note, precisely why he has hit the breakfast and dinner circuit — we are his friendly practice audiences.
What was great, however, was the Q&A session — Bernier responded to each question with verve and passion and short, closely cut answers. He was able to get to the nub of every issue, and his answers were consistent with his main points. To a question about how to better appeal to voters who rent their apartments, Bernier pushed back hard against the idea of tailored policies — defending conservative principles with passion is what is needed, he says, in order to convince people that you will govern in the national interest. Once voters see that you are being consistent with a given set of principles, they will trust you not to sell them out. To a question about the “supply management” system of dairy produce, Bernier noted that eggs cost twenty-five cents more per dozen in Quebec, and that this is because of market distortions — but that the dairy lobby is so strong in Canada (especially so in Quebec) that reforming this practice is a bigger fight than the government can take on just now, although he has seen how Australia liberalized its food production markets and admires how they did it. The longterm goal, he said, should of course be free markets in this sector and others.
Afterwards, Bernier stayed to answer people’s questions at greater length, to shake hands with everyone who wanted to meet him, and to pose for photos with anyone who wanted to (yes, there will be a photo attached to this post). He would introduce himself as “Maxime” and thank each person for coming out and fighting the good fight for conservatism.
I do not know whether Bernier has leadership ambitions — my guess is, this is a testing of the waters and a sowing of seeds, just in case the opportunity should come up.
Also, I am sure that he has seen the public opinion constraints that the prime minister has run into — anyone who knows anything about Canadian politics believes what Coyne scoffs at, that Bernier “is merely giving voice to what the leader himself believes”. Given that, the need is great for a conservative movement, semi-independent of the party itself. Public opinion and public discourse need to be shifted — winning elections is not enough.
Is Bernier auditioning for a leading role in that conservative movement? I think so — he has posted his book on the flat tax in full in pdf format on his website, and he was inviting everyone he met to visit his website and get in on the discussions.
These posts are not those of a dilettante – they are clearly from a true believer.
Harper was hurt badly in the last campaign in Quebec by his failure to push back effectively against the Bloc framing of his slowing of growth in arts funding. What hurt most, I think, was that he did not have a Maxime Bernier-type out front defending the rationale for the policy.
A right-wing party will not win a lasting majority of Quebec seats — it simply isn’t in the cards, ideologically — but there is no good reason why a party with the policies of the CPC should not have a floor of about 20-25 seats there, given the right presentation. Had that presentation been there in the 2008 election — had Bernier not had to leave cabinet in disgrace, and instead been out front, fighting for conservatism — those seats would be there right now, along with a Conservative majority government.
[A hard floor of 15 rural and eastern seats in Quebec, 60 out West, 35 in Ontario, and 5 in the Maritimes -- that would put the Tories within striking distance of government in every single election, much in the same way that Liberal sweeps of Quebec pre-1982 kept them within striking distance of power in almost every 20th century parliament.]
Bernier’s closing line: “In the ‘silent majority’, you should remember that there is a majority.”
A few days later:
Me and the man himself –