Why I won’t be joining Maxime Bernier’s new partyAugust 29, 2018
Yesterday, an article appeared in the Globe and Mail, reporting that only four MPs, in the entire Conservative caucus, had failed to respond to a Globe reporter’s online inquiry about how we feel about Maxime Bernier’s departure from the Conservative caucus. No doubt this will leave some folks wondering where I stand, so here’s my answer.
First of all, why didn’t I respond? Well, it’s my practice to ignore all media requests for me to comment on stories that aren’t in my portfolio, linked to a committee on which I’m sitting, or connected to my riding. Also, I’ve got a pretty full plate. In addition to my MP responsibilities, my wife and I were on the front page of the Ottawa Citizen, the same day that Maxime decided to leave the Conservative Party.
(You should look up the story: It’s about how the Chief Administrative Officer of Tay Valley Township, just west of Ottawa, has concocted a vexatious claim that my wife’s Forest School is operating in violation of the permitted use of the land, and has put us through eight months of hell. Fighting the township’s threat of vexatious litigation to shut down the school has been something very close to a full-time job for us.)
So frankly, when the email came in (and a couple of follow-up phone calls), I told my staff: “If the Globe and Mail thinks I’m going to waste an hour offering comments on Max’s loopy plans to set up a new party, they’ve got a mistaken idea as to how I use my time.” In retrospect. I was wrong. A moment spent dealing with this annoying phone call would have saved me the time I’m using writing this Facebook post.
So, seeing as I’m now investing the time to write on the subject, let me give you a few reasons why I won’t be supporting Max.
1. We tried the ‘Divide the Right’ strategy once before, in the 1990s. It led to a decade of Jean Chretien and the prospect, at the time, of a permanent “One-Party-Plus” system of government. Remember when there were only three non-Liberal MPs in Ontario and I was one of them? So, much as I loved the old Reform Party (which I joined in 1990—I’m very proud of being one of the first few hundred Reformers in Ontario), I don’t recommend trying that particular tactic a second time. By 2003 I had learned my lesson well enough that I became one of the six “emissaries” from the Canadian Alliance and PC parties, who stitched together the deal to create a new, united Conservative Party.
2. Back in 1990, I left the old PCs because they had drifted so far to the centre that they were indistinguishable from the Liberals. No Canadian party represented the libertarians who represented small government and individual freedom, except these crazy Reform upstarts from Alberta, led by Preston Manning and Stephen Harper.
To make the same claim about the modern Conservative Party having drifted so far to the centre that it sometimes outflanks the Liberals on the left (as really was true, some of the time, about the PCs in 1990), is just preposterous. The policy gulf between the Scheer-led Conservatives and the Trudeau-led Liberals is as great as the distance between the two leading parties has ever been, in the history of the country.
3. A year and a half ago, when Max was running against Andrew Scheer for the leadership, I backed Andrew, for a variety of reasons. One reason was his demonstrated ability, as Speaker of the Commons, of causing rivals (who often dislike each other intensely) work together productively. Another reason was his willingness to consider pro-freedom policy ideas that matter to a policy wonk like me—such as the property rights proposal that I helped design for the Scheer leadership campaign. As someone who has been committed to religious freedom since my very first speech in the House of Commons (which was in defence of the rights of Falun Gong practitioners in China), I was strongly attracted to Andrew’s commitment to freedom of speech on campus.
Since that time, Andrew has remained firm in his commitment to these values, and in some cases has doubled down. I like that. A lot.
4. Max’s declaration of independence, last week, was full of attacks not just on Andrew’s leadership, but on the party as a whole, for abandoning its ideological roots. But over the course of the next two days, the party membership deepened our policy commitment to a large number of policies that are supremely attractive to a libertarian like myself. Max is just wrong about the direction in which the party is going.
5. Maxime Bernier gained his reputation on the basis of a claim to be a libertarian. But his record, at least in recent days, is not strong. For example, I voted for marijuana legalization, but Max did not. In recent weeks, he’s drifted in a distinctly anti-libertarian, anti-freedom direction. Max’s recent Tweets about the dangers of too much diversity are antithetical to the values of classic libertarianism. The state has no legitimate interest in how much diversity there is (and anyway, how on earth do you measure something as subjective as “diversity” anyway).
We don’t—or shouldn’t—care what percentage of the population is this race or that race, or is this religion vs. that religion. In a country with a sufficiently strong political culture, our underlying values of openness and of allegiance to freedom and the rule of law will be so attractive that we’ll be able to inculcate these values in any number of citizens, whether they come from a half-dozen different backgrounds, or ten thousand, and regardless of the compass-point to which they bow when they pray.
Maxime seems to have made the decision to pursue an agenda of us-versus-the-world nationalism (“ourselves alone,” as the Irish ancestors on one side of my family might have put it). And while there’s a big market for this kind of shut-out-the-world nationalism in countries around the world (probably a great deal bigger than the market for the pure Adam Smith/Friedrich von Hayek classical liberalism to which I adhere), it’s also anathema to a true libertarian.
So there you go. I won’t be joining Maxime Bernier’s new party, and now you know why.
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