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OPINION: Why Maxime Bernier matters

Conservative MP Maxime Bernier participates in an interview with The Canadian Press in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. Maverick Conservative MP and former leadership hopeful Maxime Bernier has called a news conference in Ottawa just as his caucus colleagues are kicking off a three-day gathering in Halifax. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Conservative MP Maxime Bernier participates in an interview with The Canadian Press in his office on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang - The Canadian Press

Clear policy choices rather than personal attacks that are more typical of political discourse south of the border

BY BRYSON GUPTILL

GUEST OPINION

Maxime Bernier has been dismissed by many conservatives as a sore loser, and by Andrew Scheer as being only interested in Maxime. The criticism, especially some of the comments credited to Andrew Scheer, sound like the social media attacks the United Conservative Movement of Canada direct towards Justin Trudeau – meanspirited, inaccurate and meant to elicit a strong emotional reaction.

Most other conservative commentators have focusing on one major risk – supporting Maxime Bernier would split the conservative vote and could ensure that the Liberals win another majority government in 2019.

Commentary from the news media in recent days has concentrated on Bernier’s new People’s Party of Canada, and especially on the possibility that the party could be hijacked by the extreme-right and become a voice for racists and bigots. Bernier, of course, dismisses this possibility and says that such individuals will be denied party membership.

Up to now, we have heard little about why Bernier left the Conservative Party, labelling his former colleagues as “too intellectually and morally corrupt” to be reformed. In his statement dated August 23, 2018, Bernier argues that the Conservative Party has “all but abandoned” its core values under Andrew Scheer and has instead followed the lead of the Liberals in key areas like supply management, fiscal transfers and government subsidies to failing businesses.

Of course, protecting supply management and especially the needs of what Bernier calls “the dairy cartel” has attracted the wrath of Donald Trump and stalled NAFTA talks in Washington. From a policy perspective, the Liberals and the Conservatives seemed have painted themselves into a corner that is jeopardising resolving our ongoing trade disputes with our largest trading partner. That could impact many thousands of jobs well beyond the dairy sector and hurt Canada’s economic growth prospects for years to come.

So, in addition to calling for a reduction in the number of immigrants to 250,000 per year (as it was under the Harper government), what would the new People’s Party of Canada do?

Bernier wants to remove supply-management protection for Canada’s dairy, poultry and egg industries. He’s also calling for removal of government subsidies to businesses throughout the country, and replacing subsides with reduced business taxes. He’s also calling for governments to reduce their reliance on deficit spending and return to balanced budgets (as they were under Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin).

These measures are not radical or unrealistic. Many have been proposed by Canadian political parties in the past, especially by the Reform Party under Preston Manning. They have been enacted in part by former Conservative and Liberal governments. Most importantly, they are clear and measurable and are not focused on personal attacks and innuendo.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a political discussion that is focused on policy choices rather than hearing about how Andrew Scheer, or some other leader, can be trusted but Justin Trudeau can not? Maxime Bernier’s largest contribution may have already been made – he’s highlighting clear policy choices rather than choosing personal attacks that are more typical of political discourse south of the border.

- Bryson Guptill worked for 35 years as a senior policy advisor for various Liberal and Conservative governments in Ottawa, Charlottetown and Fredericton. He has lived in Charlottetown since 1995.

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