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Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer boots Maxime Bernier from Opposition front bench

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

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 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, Bernier had appointed himself the party's chief ideologue, keeper of the cold blue flame of the Canadian branch of the market-fundamentalist faith.

In other words, 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 Scheer.

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 Bernier carried. But so-cons require careful nurturing by a Conservative leader too.

However, his principles notwithstanding, 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 Bernier as the economic development critic in the Opposition shadow cabinet in the first place. It was evidence, at least, that Scheer saw sense in the political dictum a leader should keep his friends close and his enemies closer.

But when the ideologically dogmatic 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, Bernier had complained in his blog post that 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 Scheer hoist by this particular petard, which exposes the hypocrisy of the modern Canadian Conservative Party.

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 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 Bernier and 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!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

Photo: Andrew Scheer/Flickr

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