Spare a brief weekend thought for Maxime Bernier: if only he had kept his ambitions in check and his trap shut, he’d be sitting pretty now!
With Andrew Scheer’s resignation officially stamped “received,” who would have been in a better position to step lightly into the Opposition leader’s office after the disastrous election campaign led by every federal Conservative’s second or third choice?
No one, of course! The former front-runner in the 2017 race to lead the Conservative Party of Canada after Stephen Harper’s departure would have been the proverbial deadbolt cinch.
After all, to win the leadership, Scheer required a push from the party’s cadre of radical abortion foes and the clout of a herd of dairy farmers determined to hang onto supply management, Bernier’s personal bête noire — or, perhaps we should say, vache noire.
Even so, Scheer only managed to overcome the ambitions of the former MP for Beauce after 13 ballots by a margin of about two per cent. And party members were feeling queasy with buyer’s remorse about five minutes after realizing they’d elected Scheer on May 27, 2017.
If only Bernier had been a better loser!
Instead, frustrated man that he turned out to be, “Mad Max” (as he liked to be called) created his own party, the would-be-populist People’s Party of Canada, at a time it still looked as if the election would be an easy win for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over the underwhelming Scheer.
Presumably, Bernier calculated that with the CPC all but wiped out by a nevertheless underperforming prime minister, that would have put the PPC in a position to ride a populist wave to victory in 2023.
Whatever he thought, it was a grievous miscalculation.
The SNC-Lavalin scandal turned out to have legs, rattling Trudeau throughout the campaign. Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s campaign against the prime minister was effective too. And the embarrassing blackface revelations about Trudeau’s conduct that emerged during the campaign leading up to the October 21 federal election looked as if they might push the underwhelming Scheer over the top.
When Scheer blew the opportunity anyway, it was only a matter of hours before the knives were bound to come out. These are Canada’s Conservatives, after all.
Alas for Bernier, by the time it was obvious Trudeau’s troubles were not going to be fatal it was too late for him to change course.
Not only had he committed the ultimate act of political disloyalty, his new party had emitted enough whiffs of racism, xenophobia and other sins of populist intolerance to be thoroughly discredited in most parts of Canada. More than whiffs, many said.
It really didn’t matter if Bernier was personally free of such ill humours or not, Canadians have sensitive noses and the whole enterprise failed to pass the sniff test.
And now, like Scheer himself, Bernier is done like dinner.
How most unfortunate for him! Let’s move on, shall we?
David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Image: Andrew Scheer/Flickr
Editor’s note, December 16, 2019: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of a former justice minister. She is Jody Wilson-Raybould, not Judy Wilson-Reybould.