Scheer Sets the Stage for the Conservative Election Campaign

Conservative leader Andrew Scheer had to deal with Maxime Bernier’s defection before getting back on message last week. He should have been secretly delighted.

Bernier exhibited his true colours last week.

His announcement that he was leaving the Conservatives was no spontaneous decision. He carefully timed his exit to have the most disruptive impact possible on the convention in Halifax.

He gave the party no warning of his intentions. His announcement said that he had “come to realize over the past year that this party is too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed.”

In the days prior, he had been tweeting criticism of “extreme multiculturalism” as a counter to the leader’s support for diversity. Prior to that, he had stirred the pot on supply management. In both cases, he gave the Liberals an easy electoral weapon about hidden agendas.

The Conservatives should be doubly thankful.

First, because he jumped rather than having to be pushed. Had he forced Conservative leader Andrew Scheer to expel him, he would have earned sympathy as a martyr for his beliefs.

Rightly or wrongly, other members would have wondered about their ability to express honest dissent.

If he remained in the party, there would have been a constant threat of him spouting off-message policy comments during the coming election campaign.

Second, Conservatives should give thanks that they narrowly avoided electing him as leader. He is a poor follower, and poor followers do not make good leaders.

Bernier has lots of interesting ideas. Although his fiscal calculations are nonsense, some of his policy proposals would have made for interesting discussions in the privacy of a caucus room.

That would not have satisfied him at all. He has little tolerance for those who disagree with him and he craves the limelight.

Party politicians need to support the party’s platform. Most of them will disagree with some parts of it, but they understand the need to present a united front, particularly on potential wedge issues in an election year.

It sometimes occurs that a member finds the differences with his or her personal beliefs too great. Having advised the leadership, a dignified announcement can both express respect for former colleagues and earn respect from them.

Bernier would have none of that, effectively burning bridges with many who formerly supported him. He nevertheless hopes to rally supporters for a new party from outside caucus.

Those who choose to do so better be prepared for a life in the shadows.

Scheer’s speech to the convention, a large portion of which was delivered in French, was designed to focus the upcoming election on the issues that they believe will work for them:

  1. The Liberals have vastly exceeded their promise to limit deficits to $10 billion per year, and failed to balance the budget within their first mandate. The Conservatives will return to balanced budgets, but no details are provided on how they will do it.
  2. No to carbon taxes, especially now that big industrial polluters have been given exemptions while soccer moms are paying full shares at the gas pump. Not much on an alternative strategy for reducing greenhouse gases.
  3. Yes to pipelines, including Energy East.
  4. Trudeau says that diversity makes Canada strong. Scheer says that Canada’s strengths are freedom, openness, and equality of opportunity, which makes us attractive to a diverse group of immigrants.

    They are both right, but Scheer’s real message was a rejection of the xenophobia expressed by Bernier. That makes it possible to also highlight the real problems with the way the Liberals have handled the asylum seekers illegally crossing our border.

  5. An end to international embarrassment such as Trudeau’s lecturing the Chinese on rights, showing up late at the key meeting about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and of course the parade through India.
  6. Scheer comes from the kind of economic background that most Canadians would recognize, not Trudeau’s (and Morneau’s) privilege of inherited wealth which makes it difficult for them to understand the plight of ordinary Canadians.

As with Trudeau’s speech to the Liberal faithful in April, this was a pep talk, not a rigorous discourse. But it sets the stage for the Conservative campaign.

Many commentators have mused that Bernier might hurt the Conservatives by taking away some of their votes. Less attention has been given to the certainty that Bernier’s continuing presence within the party would have driven some voters from the Conservatives to the Liberals.


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