While the Conservative Party of Canada attempted to rally its troops a year out from an election it believes it can win, the biggest story swirling at its national convention in Halifax last weekend was about the man who professed he wouldn’t be part of their campaign effort in 2019.
Maxime Bernier, the runner up in the last campaign for party leadership, suggested the Conservatives were losing their conservative values as he announced plans to start his own party, which would be presumably stick more toward his ideals. The question that must be asked is how much will Bernier divide the Conservative party and what impact that will have on the polls a year from now.
In the run up to the leadership and after, Bernier has hit on some key issues for some farther-right leaning conservatives with his support for free markets and his criticisms of Canada’s approach to immigration and multiculturalism. With a rise in populism around the world recently, it’s not hard to imagine support leaving for the new party.
At the same time, Canada’s right-leaning voters, collectively, can see by looking at both their own history and the experience of those whose political leanings run contrary to their own that unity is the path to winning elections and they’d be best served to work with leader Andrew Scheer — the consensus second choice for many who supported other candidates in the leadership race — in a coalition to challenge Justin Trudeau’s Liberal party to regain power to make as many changes as they can to benefit the views of their many supporters, rather than sticking to narrow principles and not having a chance to govern at all. That’s the recipe that led to Stephen Harper’s most effective years of government.
The experience of the division between the Reform-Alliance parties and the old Progressive Conservatives, as well as the more recent split in Alberta’s conservative parties that allowed the NDP to come up the middle ot power must give these voters pause, just as one would think a similar experience of parties on the left — especially here in Ontario — would show that a stubborn dedication to set principles can leave people with a less desirable result.
Though the Conservatives likely will do their best to paint Bernier as egocentric or a radical that should be forgotten if they want to beat Trudeau, they can’t completely ignore the potential impact of his defection. He will the ability to cut into their support and that might cost projected votes. While choosing to belittle his party — as they’ve done in media statements since the convention — the Conservatives must also be mindful of Bernier’s policy options and review their own platform to ensure their stance is attractive enough that would-be defectors would see the traditional party as one that has both the chance to form government and has an ear open to their feelings about policy.
If Bernier legitimately feels he doesn’t have a voice within the auspices of the Conservative party, there is something admirable about him sticking to his guns and wanting to try something else. That’s the way politics should be. Sadly, that’s not the way elections are won in Canada’s current system, so all involved have much ground to lose in a short time.
It might be in the best interest of conservative Canadians that Scheer and Bernier attempt to find some middle ground, at least for the next year, even if just to let voters know they could work in a coalition for common interests. If they can’t, the election hill may be a steep climb to overcome.