In today’s Conservative Party, being known as someone who supported Maxime Bernier in the leadership race is akin to wearing a scarlet letter. Strangely, it seems to be driven solely from the fact that he barely lost.
Bernier and his supporters have every reason to be disappointed by his defeat, especially in such a tight race. But, anyone who has ever participated in electoral politics knows that you don’t always get what you want -- winning and losing is part of the game. With that in mind, a lack of enthusiasm, or even criticism, of Andrew Scheer does not mean they no longer support the party or conservatism. Unfortunately, there seems to be a significant disconnect around this concept and evidently major insecurity regarding anyone who does not blindly fall into line.
Since his defeat, pages from a book Bernier started writing were released publically and the response has been scathing -- specifically regarding the excerpt that “fake conservative” dairy farmers were the reason Scheer won (1). Why this revelation is met with such contempt and outrage is mind boggling because it is the truth, granted Bernier’s choice of language could have been better. This apoplectic reaction does a disservice to conservatives. Rather than reflect on and learning from criticism, the party faithful go into overdrive trying to shut it down. How can the party evolve or stay relevant with this approach?
Just as Bernier barely lost, Scheer barely won.
Whether you like Bernier or not, his ideas resonated with at least 49% of the party’s membership. Although Scheer’s support for supply management was his path to victory, there is a real appetite in the party to abolish it. It is irresponsible for the party to ignore that fact.
In 2016, multiple policy proposals were put forward by the party’s membership to either phase out or completely abolish supply management. Even in Alberta, one of Canada’s agricultural hubs, a policy to abolish supply management passed a regional meeting with majority support. Fast forward to 2018, in a new Andrew Scheer Conservative party, and policy proposals seeking to abolish supply management are still just as prevalent (2).
Andrew Scheer supports supply management, so it will live another day -- but what about the other good ideas that Maxime had? Why not work to incorporate more of his ideas into the party platform going forward to reach out to those who supported him? Would it be too much to attempt to strike a balance in policy direction that more accurately reflects where the membership really stands? Almost a year later, after having to swallow the loss on supply management, Bernier supporters watched Scheer’s first major economic announcement: a new tax credit (3).
If the party wants to remain united, they need to listen to their membership instead of mocking it. What good does it serve the party to alienate 49% of their membership? Throw us a bone or two. It will not be Maxime Bernier and his supporters who will be responsible if the “big blue tent” collapses. The party needs to open its eyes and realize that it is failing to see the bigger picture.
The Conservative Party is the party many choose to support because we believe it is the best to defend personal freedom and advance small government principles. When the party fails to do that, and instead moves to silence dissent and defend big government ideas, where do we go?
The party needs to stop vilifying those who push for change to make the party better. If we want to see another conservative government in the next decade, we need to be united and embrace diversity of opinion among our membership.