Let’s start this column with the awkward admission and work backward: Maybe Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is quite right to demote Maxime Bernier from his front bench. A “shadow cabinet” is one of the more obvious of the fictions that characterize politics in parliamentary democracies. Being “fired” from one will just give Bernier more time to roam the land and cultivate the independent following he enjoys as one of the few elected Conservatives who articulates and represents identifiably conservative ideas.
Leisure time does not seem like the ideal thing for a party leader to give a very obvious rival, one he barely beat to the leadership. At the same time, there is no denying that Scheer has the right to choose his front bench and to pick team members who will stick to the leader’s orchestral charts.
In April Bernier had announced a forthcoming book (entitled Doing Politics Differently: My Vision for Canada) and had published a chapter attacking dairy supply management. Canadian dairy policy later became Donald Trump’s stated pretext, or one of them, for a more general trade war against Canada and for personal abuse of the prime minister. The chapter had been withdrawn from the web in the spring when Bernier decided, under caucus pressure, to postpone the publication of the whole book. It then reappeared June 5, just as Trump and his surrogates were denouncing Canada’s scheme of dairy protectionism.
Conservative MP Maxime Bernier leaves a caucus meeting on Parliament Hill on June 13, 2018.
Last year Bernier had specifically praised Trump in an open letter for calling Canadians’ attention to supply management, which has been a sore spot in other bilateral trade negotiations. The June reappearance of Bernier’s offensive samizdat coincided with him deliberately ducking out of the House of Commons before a unanimous floor vote condemning Trump’s ravings and supporting the PM.
All this is a laborious way of establishing the answers to more obvious questions about Bernier’s political situation. Did he do anything wrong to get demoted? He has always opposed supply management very loudly, and, as he points out, the book chapter was already circulating. He didn’t really do anything different, so it is hard to see how he could be said to be doing anything obviously objectionable or punishable.
But was he engaged in a little game-playing for personal attention while his party’s leader was trying to manage a patriotic frenzy and co-operate with a united all-party front against Trump? That’s probably fair. He wasn’t thrown out of the Conservative caucus altogether. Scheer’s move amounts to a change of seating plan in the House. It is certainly within a leader’s rights to subject a member to such a “punishment” for mere lack of enthusiasm. (And Bernier’s recent verbal Nerf-gun battle with Liberal MP Celina Caesar-Chavannes probably didn’t help his case.)
But none of this solves any of the underlying strategic problems, one of which is that it is perfectly reasonable to oppose supply management in the interests of Canada while objecting to Trump’s behaviour. Scheer was made Conservative …read more