COLUMN: Bernier a good option for Conservatives

Maxime Bernier’s long-rumoured run for leadership of the federal Conservative party launched Thursday. Bernier’s candidacy should come as no surprise for political watchers. But his views on conservatism may well be a surprise for the better. Bernier is not just a conservative in the classical “Canadian” sense, he is a libertarian-conservative.

The Conservative party has not really been a conservative party these last 12 years, it was the Harper party. United by a deal between Peter McKay and Stephen Harper to bring the old Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance (nee Reform) parties together to win power. Once Harper won the leadership, the grassroots became little more than fund generators for the party, policy came from the top down. Harper’s leadership had good and bad points, as all Prime Ministers do. But Harper’s policies were not conservative, nor were they centrist. It was a hodgepodge of policies crafted on wedge issues, sprinkled with some ham-fisted reactionary bills based on pollster’s pronouncements. Again, not all of the policies implemented by Harper were bad, but not all were good either. If you look at the Harper legacy, being “conservative” really is not part of the equation.

Bernier represents a different sort of conservative than what has come out of the two former parties, the libertarian aspect. Most conservatives define the ideal of “smaller government” meaning a smaller civil service, fewer cabinet positions and the like. Bernier’s version of smaller government is less government. Less government intervention in our day-to-day lives, and more personal responsibility. For libertarians the concept of personal responsibility is a core belief, the idea of individual liberty. It can work hand-in-hand with conservatism if done properly.

A small-government, less-government libertarian approach works well with fiscal conservatism. For example, Bernier is against corporate welfare and bailouts for companies like Bombardier. A smaller-sized government costs less, which also appeals to the fiscal conservative elements of the party.

Bernier will likely be the only candidate who hails from Quebec during this leadership contest. His appeal in the Beauce region is strong, and his small-government and provincial-rights views should be appealing to Western Canadians worried about interference from Ottawa.

Will Bernier be able to win the leadership of the Conservative party? Perhaps, but he lacks the profile of potential candidates like Peter MacKay and Lisa Raitt. Declaring his candidacy early will help build that profile. Should he hang on in the thick of leadership contest, he will bring attention matters of policy and what the party stands for. Bernier’s candidacy challenges the typical notion that the right wing of this country has; that to beat the Liberals you have to become the Liberals.

Bernier is a solid candidate, moderately charismatic and fluently bilingual, with a clear message and platform he is running on. He should be able to appeal to conservatives across the country with his message of less (government) is more (liberty). It will be very interesting to see how his candidacy plays out.