What is Maxime Bernier up to and could he dangerously expand right-wing, anti-immigration politics in Canada in the lead up to the October 2019 federal election and beyond?

Yesterday, CTV reported, “Rogue MP Maxime Bernier has quit the Conservative Party of Canada on the day its members and parliamentarians gather in Halifax for a biennial convention. Bernier says the party has ‘all but abandoned its core conservative principles.'”

Bernier has chosen to attack “extreme multiculturalism” and “ever more diversity” and has been repeatedly tweeting these views to his 53,600 Twitter followers.

For example, on August 12 he chillingly tweeted, “Cultural balkanisation brings distrust, social conflict, and potentially violence, as we are seeing everywhere. It’s time we reverse this trend before the situation gets worse. More diversity will not be our strength, it will destroy what has made us such a great country.”

Scheer dismissed the criticism of his leadership and said, “It’s been the Conservative caucus that has been fighting for planned and orderly immigration.”

There are suggestions that Bernier left for reasons of ego and “sour grapes” after having lost to Scheer in a 13th round 51-49 leadership vote in May 2017, and while that’s very likely true, that doesn’t negate a longer-term plan and a very real threat.

The day before Bernier announced his decision to leave the Conservatives, Toronto Star columnist Chantal Hébert commented, “One needs to assume that Bernier is playing the long game, one that is contingent on Scheer losing the 2019 election.”

She adds, “Last weekend, a cohort of Quebecor columnists took turns lauding his courage as they welcomed him on the anti-multiculturalism front line.”

This also follows an Angus Reid Institute poll taken in late July that found that 70 per cent of Canadians were following the issue of irregular border crossings, 65 per cent said the number of people crossing the border was “too many people for Canada to handle,” and 58 per cent saying Canada has been “too generous” to those seeking asylum.

And CBC polls analyst Éric Grenier has pointed out, “Among the 57 per cent [in a recent Abacus Data survey] who said they would like to see a change of government, 42 per cent cited immigration/refugees as one of the reasons they want a change — second only to the issue of debt and deficits.”

It’s very likely that Bernier is familiar with these numbers and is tapping into those views in the broader Canadian electorate.

Trying out a strong man spin not uncommon in farther right parties, Bernier says, “[The Conservative] Party is afraid to articulate any coherent philosophy to support its position. Every public declaration is tested with polls and focus groups. The result is a bunch of platitudes that don’t offend anybody, but also don’t mean anything and don’t motivate anyone.”

Bernier now intends to travel the country to hold consultations and have his new party functioning as early as late October.

Given the electoral success of right-wing, anti-immigration, nationalist parties in Europe – notably The League/Five Star Movement in Italy; Alternative for Germany (AfD); the Freedom Party (FPÖ) in Austria; and the Sweden Democrats to name just a few — we should take the forces Bernier is seeking to further unleash here seriously.

Millions of people around the world have already been displaced by war, human rights violations and environmental disasters and it has been estimated that there could be as many as 200 million climate refugees by 2050.

As this situation intensifies, it is vital that we build strong climate justice movements, challenge the construct of national borders, address the evils of neo-liberalism that intensify economic anxiety and worsen intolerance, be more explicit in our condemnation of racism and Islamophobia, and more bold and imaginative in our vision of a better world.

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Brent Patterson

Brent Patterson is a political activist, writer and the executive director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. He lives in Ottawa on the traditional, unceded and unsurrendered territories of the Algonquin...