Most Conservatives, especially those in Atlantic Canada, are relieved to say goodbye and good riddance to Maxime Bernier. The Quebec MP, who never got over his 2017 leadership defeat to Andrew Scheer, still believes he is the rightful party leader. His disruptive antics were never going to end.
Mr. Bernier burned his own bridges - sparing the need for Mr. Scheer to bloody his hands any further. The Quebec MP was removed from the Conservative shadow cabinet in June after claiming Mr. Scheer won the leadership because of “fake Conservatives.” Removing Mr. Bernier from the party was inevitable.
Mr. Bernier’s rants about extreme diversity and his attacks on supply management placed him where most moderate and progressive Conservatives feared to tread. Now the distractions are gone and the party can get down to the business at hand – taking direction from last week’s policy convention in Halifax to confront Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party in the general election next November.
Mr. Bernier’s plan to form a new party poses little threat, especially in Atlantic Canada. The Reform party never got much traction in this region, but did siphon off enough Conservative votes in tight ridings to hand wins to Jean Chretien’s Liberals.
James Aylward, leader of the Progressive Conservative Party of P.E.I. and other Islanders who attended the Halifax convention as observers and delegates, agree that Mr. Bernier’s departure isn’t a big issue. The majority of P.E.I. delegates supported Mr. Scheer in the leadership race and the new leader quickly found a warm reception among Islanders. Here, the issues are about affordable housing, health care and the Energy East Pipeline, and not about Mr. Bernier.
Mr. Aylward found himself in the convention spotlight as part of a panel of prospective premiers. The attention is a timely shot in the arm for Mr. Aylward who will lead a rejuvenated PC party in a looming P.E.I. election – a call that is expected sooner than later.
Conservatives are buoyed by the June victory of Doug Ford in Ontario; the party is running strongly in the current New Brunswick campaign; and have high hopes of winning an upcoming election in Alberta. Fundraising is usually a good barometer on how a party is performing, and for the past year, the Conservatives have surpassed the federal Liberals nationally.
There were some controversial resolutions in Halifax – especially on immigration, citizenship and abortion issues that are sure to draw criticism and debate. Other resolutions, such as support of the Energy East pipeline and against a federally-mandated carbon tax, received unanimous support from delegates. The derailed pipeline would be a key economic generator for the region but got little support from the National Energy Board, Prime Minister Trudeau or Atlantic Liberal MPs at a crucial time.
The Liberals have been accused of taking the region for granted, and the Conservatives have only one way to go in Atlantic Canada. The 32-seat Liberal sweep in 2015 can only be considered a once-in-a-lifetime aberration.
Things are looking up for Atlantic Conservatives.