Maxime Bernier, at left, and his leader Andrew Scheer in happier times (Photo: Andrew Scheer Flickr account).

It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for federal Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer, what with right-wing purists jumping all over him for canning Maxime Bernier from the Opposition party’s front bench.

In addition to being the normally ineffectual Mr. Scheer’s chief rival for the hearts and minds of the country’s Conservatives, who are agitated and impatient as a result of their expulsion from power by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in 2015, Mr. Bernier had appointed himself the party’s chief ideologue, keeper of the cold blue flame of the Canadian branch of the market-fundamentalist faith.

Derek Fildebrandt (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

In other words, Mr. Bernier had become a complete pain in the leader’s butt, in addition to being an existential threat on more than one level to the prime ministerial hopes and dreams of Mr. Scheer.

Mr. Scheer comes from the social conservative wing of the party’s base – which is probably larger in numbers if considerably smaller in influence and cash than the neoliberal market purists whose standard Mr. Bernier carried. But so-cons require careful nurturing by a Conservative leader too.

However, his principles notwithstanding, Mr. Scheer is enough of a traditional politician, obviously, that he sees the sense in making deals and compromises – at least within the confines of the various streams of movement conservatism that nowadays dominate his party.

This was clear from his placement of Mr. Bernier as the economic development critic in the Opposition shadow Cabinet in the first place. It was evidence, at least, that Mr. Scheer saw sense in the political dictum a leader should keep his friends close and his enemies closer.

But when the ideologically dogmatic Mr. Bernier sandbagged him by publishing a chapter of a book criticizing Canada’s “supply management” of eggs, poultry and dairy products, which offends the Quebec MP’s market-fundamentalist doctrine, he didn’t leave the leader much choice but to sack him. To add insult to injury, Mr. Bernier had complained in his blog post that Mr. Scheer owed his 50.1-per-cent victory as party leader in May 2017 to “fake Conservatives” who joined up merely to defend supply management in the dairy industry. 

That said, it’s fun to see Mr. Scheer hoist with this particular petard, which exposes the hypocrisy of the modern Canadian Conservative Party.

Nevada Republican Dennis Hof (Photo: Twitter).

Canadian Conservatives demand heavy intervention in the market to protect the well-heeled dairy, egg and poultry farmers who support it generously – even in the face of daily attacks by the Republican president of the United States, whom they normally revere.

At the same time, they call for harsh market fundamentalism for the rest of us, especially those who live in big cities and own neither expensive dairy quota nor multi-million-dollar trust funds.

The supply management system itself is not as bad as its market fundamentalist critics claim and not as noble as its principal beneficiaries assert. Does it benefit ordinary Canadian consumers? Not really. Does it mean more Canadians can earn a decent living from farming? Probably. Does its special treatment reveal the Canadian right-wing to be craven hypocrites? Absolutely.

This is amusing, and even edifying. However, since all major parties in Parliament have basically the same position on supply management, it would not likely have become much of an issue – even in the face of Donald Trump’s screeches – had Saint Maxime of Beauce not decided to make an online political martyr of himself.

Here in Alberta, the self-appointed “Liberty Conservative,” Independent MLA Derek Fildebrandt, kicked out of the United Conservative Party by Leader Jason Kenney for similar insubordination and other political sins, swiftly emerged as Mr. Bernier’s defender.

He Tweeted Tuesday evening: “The decision to boot @MaximeBernier is insane. He represents 49.9% of Conservatives. If the Tories are trying to lose the next election, they are succeeding.”

Well, perhaps “insane” is a little strong. Indeed, it’s hard to see how a leader who wishes to remain the leader could do much but cashier a front-bencher gone rogue as both Mr. Bernier and Mr. Fildebrandt did.

But his conclusion that “if the Tories are trying to lose the next election, they are succeeding,” rings true, and, for the country’s sake, is cause for rejoicing.

Meantime, throughout North America, the battle between social conservatives who want to control everyone’s thoughts and bodies and market dogmatists who want to treat everything as a commodity continues.

Those who try to square that particular circle may look like hypocrites, but they often succeed – as the story of President Trump illustrates, if only by the flickering light of a tikki torch.

How this will play out is not yet absolutely certain, although the political success of “Nevada’s most famous pimp” on Tuesday suggests the likely trajectory of the story on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.

Donald Trump was the Christopher Columbus for me,” said brothel owner Dennis Hof after winning a Republican state primary. “He found the way and I jumped on it.”

Supply management? Fuggedaboudit!

Join the Conversation


  1. Well, I don’t know about you, but hormone-free milk from undrugged dairy cows I’m willing to pay extra for. The Americans artificially force their cows to produce or else. I looked into this years ago. There’s more to life than cheap adulterated milk and having fanatic twits like Bernier leaping around like village idiots focusing on only one thing — price as the be-all and end-all of everything. Such people are dolts, period. One-trick ponies, and libertarianism is surely that by definition.

    Scheer can scarcely put one cogent word after another, and if he’s ever uttered a profound statement, it has eluded my attention. He’s one of those dull people born conservative and who subsequently has never spent a moment on intellectual reflection, nor has it ever occurred to him that he should.

    The Conservative Party is full of such un-introspective people. Those Cons who do get all defensively upset at their views being questioned and who have moderate native intelligence then spend years trying to point out flaws in progressive programs. They write dusty tracts while working in “Institutes” or “Associations” or “Federations” as if that meant their lack of profundity was thereby legitimized because they were paid for it. By some special interest or another – few Cons are motivated to work for free, unlike progressives on a mission to better things. Naturally, Cons offer nothing new and innovative in return, merely promises to roll things back to where they were before. Harper comes to mind, offensively so.

    Then gasping and out of breath at the incredible effort they’ve put in tickling a few brain cells into moderate activity, semi-bright Cons expect people to vote them into power to screw things up yet and once again. And occasionally succeed at it for various reasons, except in Alberta where the masses’ non-thinking Con tribalism has been a way of life until recently. It looks to be making a comeback as Kenney preens around as premier-in-waiting, cutting weight for photo ops while staging wildcat walkouts from the Legislature but still expecting, of course, to be paid from the public purse for his absences.

    That’s what I mean about Con brainpower – it’s absent of any logic but its own confusion, and its inability to equate its actions with say those of unionized workers who sometimes feel forced to act similarly in situations they regard as untenable. Cons and union workers acting in the same way? Say it ain’t so Jason!

    That’s “hoisted”, not – “hoist by this particular petard” – I think, Dave.

    1. There’s letters seal’d, and my two schoolfellows,
      Whom I will trust as I will adders fang’d—
      They bear the mandate, they must sweep my way
      And marshal me to knavery. Let it work;
      For ’tis the sport to have the enginer
      Hoist with his own petard, an’t shall go hard
      But I will delve one yard below their mines
      And blow them at the moon.

      1. In deference to Will’s note, I have amended this to “hoist with this particular petard.” That said, I don’t think the real Mr. Shakespeare would be troubled by the by (as it were) in this particular case, or for that matter by hoisted, as long as the beats-per-line count worked out. DJC

  2. The reason that the federal conservatives are going to lose is because they have moved away from the market fundamentalism that works for Canada and that Canadians want. People are tired of welfare schemes like supply management and they made the wrong choice in electing Andrew Scheer as leader, who is just liberal-lite.

  3. Contrary to what Mr. Fildebrandt says, I don’t think kicking Maxime Bernier out will cost the CPC many votes, simply because the people aggravated by Bernier’s expulsion would have no other party to support.

  4. I think that it is also a sign of something larger. There has always been a fundamental split within the Conservative Party. It was held at bay when Harper was PM. He kept a tight ship and handed out lots and lots of duct tape.

    The fissures began to show just prior to Harper’s departure. They have only become worse. This latest episode may indeed stimulate more unpleasantness.

    Not certain why it is so important for everyone in the Party to agree with everything that the Party stands for. Just read an article about departing MPs from the last Parliament.

    How silly did it get? One Consrevative MP, a committee member, recalls being directed by the PMO not to vote for an ammendment put forward by an NDP member. This is in committee, NOT in the House. The ammendment was to add a coma to correct sentence grammar. The reason why this MP was told not to vote for it was that the PMO did not want to be seen giving the NDP a ‘win’. That is how silly it became at the tail end of Harper’s term. That resentment is still felt by the MP’s who remain.

    1. The “fundamental split” is mostly what moderate conservatives have coloured themselves by quietly moving off to other parties. Putting together potentially hostile factions always leaves a fault-line, no matter how much JB Weld is used. Mulroney tried it and ended up with the Reform and Bloc Québécois parties. Manning tried it and got the Reform-a-CRAP-Alliance and the Independent Conservative parties. Harper tried it and was left with the Conservative Party and the Liberal Party.

      All parties have factions; it’s the leader’s job to make sure they don’t reveal themselves at inopportune times (like Bernier did with the dairy marketing boards). Since the Cons have been losing support to natural attrition and disaffection among moderate conservatives they’ve been left with to two factions of Puritanism: SoCons and Neo-Rightists. (Neo-right propaganda continually tries to equate the two.)

      Faction is never good for a party, just ask the Liberals who virtually eliminated themselves from contention for nearly a decade (during which HarperCons ruled lovelessly by default), or the NDP with its periodic outbreaks of Wobblies, New Politics Initiators and LEAP manifesters—or, for that matter, the Progressive Conservatives, none of its diasporic spawn able to govern until Harper and MacKay treacherously welded enough parts together to avail the Liberal interregnum. It’s our single-member-plurality system that factions make peace in order to get the rewards of that electoral system.

      Party factionalism is barely mentioned by proportional representation proponents because that system would encourage noncooperative particularism. CPC leadership contender Kelley Leitch’s pandering to extreme factions of the CPC seemed anticipatory of pro-rep’s implementation (which would encourage more extreme factions to hive-off and smaller parties get a good chance of winning a seat or two—and maybe the balance of power) where she would be seen, as a result of her strident rhetoric, as the natural leader of such a party. But it was probably more of a recognition that moderates—what was left of them, represented by rejected leadership contender Michael Chong—have been increasingly marginalized in the party, more extreme factions remaining: the present SoCon and Neo-Right factions of Puritanism. (Remind that the original Puritans were so difficult to get along with they had to emigrate to the American wilderness.)

      Factionalism within a party is a weakness. Weakness, in turn, incites blame and contentious schemes to resurrect and wreak revenge. It is not a harbinger of fecundity but, rather, the opposite: moribundity. Perhaps any party that espouses market capitalism—where the watchword is competition—is prone to having members butt heads. But I think it more likely that conservatism, by far the oldest polity of all, is disadvantaged by fast-changing times, as any traditionalist party would be; when neo-liberalism was unleashed, ostensibly to rescue victims of Soviet communism, the ensuing stateless capitalism inevitably committed the kind of excesses Adam Smith had warned of (the ones that he concluded made intervention by sovereign states essential). This malevolence has bumped the strategic, existential threat from first mind and coopted technological innovation that had formerly been the reserve of strategic first-refusal, aiming it directly at globalized consumerism. Traditional Toryism, with its prudential, cautionary principles, social traditionalism, and sovereign patriotism could not be blamed for its bewilderment as these mores were swept away by the new Geckoid ethos.

      With neo-liberalism’s name-sake parties still harbouring indelible welfare liberal factions, its best opportunity to convince governments to betray their national patriotism in favour of stateless profiteering was to usurp these bewildered, behind-the-times Tories for the purpose. (I call this kind of neo-liberal “neo-rightist” to distinguish from neo-liberalism infesting liberal parties.) Using traditional conservative rhetoric to affect a clandestine invasion, the Neo-Rightists had initial successes—election to power in many jurisdictions—but, as perfidy was eventually revealed, many real Tory supporters realized their parties had been usurped for a purpose counter to their traditions—the neo-right’s complete lack of national patriotism is a major clincher. With moderates forced out, there are virtually no traditional Tory parties left. All nominal conservative parties are, in fact, neo-right parties, not Tory parties in the traditional sense.

      As environmental degradation and gaping inequality increase unabated, the shine has come off of the neo-right and so, also, the nominal conservative parties the neo-right has turned into zombies of rampant globalization. To compensate for this erosion of support, the neo-right has had to resort to cocked-up social narratives, xenophobia and barely veiled racism, driving out moderates. There may be faction remaining in spite of these purges but its revelation is not inspiring, it is desperation that has humbled UK Tories (Brexit), Alberta PCs (43-year regime bumped off by socialists), HarperCons (whipped by a third-place party with a rookie leader), and BC Liberals (Green Dippers prevail); Yet voter frustration still elects a bull in a china shoppe (Trump) and a high school hash dealer to deal with the largest public debt of any subsovereign government (Ford in Ontario), both Republicans and Ontario PCs in the throes of what’s happening to all Neo-Right governments and parties as poverty and pollution continue to whelm the world.

      The federal Cons blew a golden opportunity to return to moderate conservatism—perhaps it was too late, anyway. They are doomed whether they win the next election or not. And if it doesn’t really matter which party gets in, we will all be doomed.

  5. There is a party for Max supporters to join. The Libertarian Party of Canada has extended an invitation to Maxime Bernier and would be pleased to have him as a member. Maxime would be much more at home in this party anyhow.

    If some of his supporters are also libertarians then they would be most welcome also.

  6. Everything was going so well for Mr. Scheer in the polls recently and some Conservatives were becoming quite hopeful removal from power would be a temporary thing and Canadians were coming to their senses, then a whole bunch of unexpected things happened starting with Trump. The US President’s strange, unexpected and most Canadians would say unprovoked attack on our Prime Minister, caused even most Conservatives to rally to his defense, although Mr. Scheer showing questionable political instincts, seemed to waver and hesitate on this – strike one. As Canadians started to discuss the merit of Mr. Trumps claims on Canadian dairy protectionism, this brought to light a big divide in the Conservative Party between the social conservatives who love rural dairy farmers and the economic conservatives who feel it would be better they all went out of business in support of their extreme ideology – strike two. Oh and if that is not enough, there is a by-election campaign going on in rural Quebec right now that the Conservatives appear to be doing fairly well in, perhaps in part due to the support of dairy farmers, who Mr. Scheer seems to get along with well. Into all of this, former Conservative leadership contender Maxime Bernier steps into one big cow pie, both supporting Mr. Trump’s unpopular position and reminding everyone he called Quebec dairy farmers “fake conservatives” and by implication questioning the credibility of Mr. Scheer’s leadership victory over him. Talk about bad timing – I am sure even some sympathetic to Mr. Bernier’s arguments wanted him bound and gagged as quickly as possible before he could do any more damage.

    Up until now, Mr. Scheer has been fairly successful in putting a facade of moderation and pleasantness on the Conservative Party, but there is a reason they don’t call themselves Progressive Conservatives anymore Federally. Many former Reformers, who dominate the Conservative Party, were and still are openly hostile or suspicious of any conservative that appears too moderate or progressive. For instance, Conservative advocates of a carbon tax, have now been silenced Federally and in the case of the Ontario Conservatives (who still maintain the PC facade), purged from the party and the platform.

    Unfortunately, for Mr. Scheer, Mr. Bernier is neither moderate nor easily silenced. I suspect Mr. Scheer’s leadership will only be wounded, not killed by Mr. Bernier’s recent ill timed mischief. However, Mr. Scheer has probably got the message, pretending to be moderate to attract liberal voters, could be a dangerous, perhaps fatal strategy for his survival as party leader. The brief era of the kinder, gentler Federal Conservative Party is probably over.

  7. “Donald Trump was the Christopher Columbus for me. He found a way and I jumped on it.”
    Hof hints that he and and the president are electoral soul mates. Maybe they can enjoy a game of leap frog on the White House lawn.

  8. The whole mini-brouhaha over alleged “fake Conservatives” brings to mind the tactics used by the Brian Mulroney campaign in a federal PC Leadership race, in which it was alleged that his people bused in “instant Tories” from nursing homes and the like to vote in riding association delegate selection meetings. I can’t recall, at this juncture, whether that was in Mr Mulroney’s first, unsuccessful run for the PC Leadership, in which Joe Clark was the eventual winner, or his second, which he won.

    That said, in my view political parties of all stripes, my own NDP among them, have erred in how Party Leaderships are now chosen. Opening up the voting to all members, using one member one vote schemes, means the Leader is chosen by an electorate which has had no ongoing and deep commitment to the Party or its values and positions. Hence, we see failures like Mr Mulcair and Ms Redford, among others, and unfortunately like Mr Singh seems to be becoming. In addition, the old delegated convention system had the strength of lending sitting elected MPs or MLAs significant influence on the process, which was one of the unwritten checks and balances on the Leader’s power. Under the current system, Leaders have no need for caucus support, and are not accountable to caucus (or anyone else).

    In my view, freezing Party membership lists as of the day a Leadership contest opens would mean that only those who have been with that Party for a significant length of time would be involved in choosing the Leader. That would increase the likelihood they would choose someone with deep roots in the Party.

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