William Watson: Maxime Bernier wants to be seen as a conservative in a hurry

William Watson: Maxime Bernier wants to be seen as a conservative in a hurry

If you’re a conservative, you’ve probably got a checklist of things you believe. Let’s see how, in his 2,273 words in Monday night’s debate, Maxime Bernier stacks up. (Yes, I did count. The other leaders had: Scheer 4,037, Trudeau 3,824, Singh 3,780, May 3,446 and Blanchet 2,254. The transcript records two interventions by “Unidentified male” but I didn’t count those.)

Mind you, there’s more to Bernier than what he said Monday night. He had a mixed record as a federal minister, great in Industry, not so good in Foreign Affairs, where his relaxed view of document security got him canned. Forming his own party may well have been an act of personal pique — albeit well-earned pique after the Conservative leadership was snatched away from him by the dairy cartel. And his new party has attracted support from decidedly unsavoury sorts. In 10 days, voters will be judging his full bio, just as they will with the other candidates. But for now, let’s look at what he did say Tuesday.

What did Bernier say?

“The UN is a dysfunctional organization.” Few conservatives will disagree.

“Extreme multiculturalism … is not the way to build this country.” Diversity is fine, it’s welcome, in fact, but policies that reinforce ethnic separateness are not.

“It’s time to have a discussion about … immigration.” Discussion should not be a problem. Our current target of 350,000 immigrants a year was not revealed by the Divine. Anyone who knows anything about social science knows that “optimal immigrant flows” and the like are essentially incalculable. But then why would Bernier’s target of 150,000 be best? Going for more economic immigrants and fewer family members and refugees might serve various growth and redistribution goals but are there moral problems in stripping poor countries of their most talented people? Tough questions. But by all means let’s discuss. Bernier’s “Everybody is welcome in this country” sets a good tone for the debate, even if it’s a good bet not everybody in his party agrees. The test of his sincerity will be stamping out the bigoted fringe.

“You must believe in people. You must give back their money in their own pockets.” Check.

“(Canadian values include:) Equality before the law, equality between man and woman.” Of course.

“We need to celebrate who we are and we’re not doing that.” We certainly weren’t doing it during our 150th birthday guilt-fest in 2017.

To Elizabeth May: “We won’t be able to create any wealth with your policies. You have the same kind of policies (as) in socialist countries like Venezuela. That won’t create any wealth.” Ms. May seems kind, gentle and un-revolutionary but she does propose a complete overhaul of the economy by regulatory fiat.

“We have the right in this country to debate ideas, and that’s what I’m doing.” Who could disagree? Well, Jagmeet Singh, for one, whose explanation for why he thought Bernier’s various tweets should have disqualified him from the debate almost directly preceded a question from a lady in B.C. asking “how will you ensure that all voices across the political spectrum are heard and considered?” By shutting them down, I guess.

“I will respect the Constitution. I will respect provinces … I won’t interfere in health care because it is a provincial jurisdiction … Pharmacare is a provincial jurisdiction, Mr. Singh, it’s a provincial jurisdiction.” Classic conservative views these.

“Everybody here on this stage (is) spending more money … We want the private sector to be able to invest. The private sector works quite well … Where will you find the money? In our pockets.” Amen.

“You’re saying you’re for pipelines (Mr. Scheer) but you don’t have the courage to use the Constitution to be sure that we’ll have pipelines in this country for the unity … and prosperity of our country.” And he goes on to mention Section 92.10 of the Constitution, which gives the federal government jurisdiction over interprovincial transportation and communication and “works for the general Advantage of Canada.” That’s John A. Macdonald conservatism.

“We are the only party that will try to implement property rights on reserve and also establish a relationship based on self-reliance for these communities.” Property rights may be a “settler” concept, as progressives would call it, but how many societies have delivered high standards of living without well-defined individual property rights?

“What I like from you, Elizabeth, you don’t want any subsidies to the oil and gas industry, and I don’t believe in corporate subsidies, also in corporate welfare, so we can agree on that.” The cross-party comity is probably premature. I’m guessing Elizabeth May loves subsidies for wind, solar, biomass and all sorts of other energy sources (except nuclear) that aren’t viable without them.

“We are the only party that will balance the budget in two years … I promise you to do nothing except balance the budget and after that lower your taxes. That’s the only responsible policy … Mr. Scheer and Mr. Trudeau, it’s all the same. It’s all boutique tax credits.” That’s a little harsh: Scheer cuts the first income tax rate from 15 to 13.75 per cent while Trudeau raises the basic personal amount for people under $147,000. But most readers of this page — and I suspect most writers on this page — will not disagree.

On climate: “We want to do things that are possible. We want to do things that are possible to protect our health, our air, our environment, our water … I believe that there’s no climate emergency.” It not being clear what the true conservative position on climate is, I’ll stop the quotes there.

Choice is good but sometimes hard. Voters on Canada’s right now face the same dilemma voters on its left have struggled with for decades. Vote for the Liberals, whose hearts may be way left but who cling calculatingly to the centre, where the votes are? Or vote for the “Liberals in a hurry”? It’s not always an easy choice. Andrew Scheer is doing his best to cling to the centre. Max Bernier is a conservative in a hurry. Good luck with your choice, conservatives.

Financial Post

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