By Kristy Koehler, October 1 2019 —
Maxime Bernier stopped in Calgary on Sept. 26 on his Western Canadian campaign tour, bringing with him a promise to build pipelines, reform equalization and stand up for Alberta.
“We are a smart populist new political party,” said Bernier during the event. “We have smart policies and serious policies for the future of our country.”
Met with protestors in Vancouver the night before, there were no demonstrations to be had outside downtown’s Metropolitan Conference Centre. There was, however, a supporter dressed as a superhero and a mix of men, women, young and old attendees.
People’s Party of Canada rallies begin with the singing of O Canada. Raucous cheers went up from the crowd when the Master of Ceremonies announced that the anthem would be sung in pre-gender-neutral format and the singing rose to a shout when “in all thy sons command” came around.
Maxime Bernier has charisma in spades. While he oozes charm in an interview, where he really shines is in front of a crowd. He’s articulate, funny and knows his audience.
“I’m not appealing to your emotions,” said Bernier at one point, but, the crowd was very much emotional, adding enthusiastic affirmations after virtually every sentence.
Some detractors I’ve spoken with think Bernier formed the PPC in order to siphon votes away from a Conservative Party that came this close to electing him as their leader, and will happily jump back into the CPC fold if Andrew Scheer manages to botch an election rife with Liberal scandal.
Bernier, however, has other ideas.
“My commitment tonight — no merger,” he said. “We won’t merge with the Conservative Party. We’ll stay authentic to what we believe in.”
Never a fan of the media, Bernier told the “journalists at the back” to listen up and write it down.
“What about a coalition government?” he continued. “No. We won’t be part of a coalition government. Why? Because we don’t want to do any compromise with our principles. So, if we have a minority government, we will work with that minority government but that government will have to do some compromise if the government wants to have the support of our MPs. We will work with the government legislation-by-legislation, day-by-day and we’ll judge the government every day on their actions.”
Bernier knows he isn’t going to be Prime Minister this time around. But, citing the example of British Columbia, where “three Greens control the government” in a minority-NDP Parliament, Bernier says he’s certain the PPC can have the balance of power in Ottawa, because they “will elect more than three Members of Parliament.”
“You’re real conservatives here in Alberta — it’s in your blood,” said Bernier to uproarious applause. “Stay conservative — the Conservative Party of Canada is not conservative anymore.”
Bernier lauded the old Reform Party’s platform, admitting that 90 per cent of his platform came from their ideas. But, he said, the Reform Party made a critical error — doing the one thing he just professed he’d never do — joining with the conservatives. He proceeded to take a swipe at Andrew Scheer, the first of many throughout the evening.
“Andrew Scheer said that he’s a centrist, with a pragmatic political party with lots of ideas for a lot of people,” he said. “Translation: I don’t have any vision for this country. I don’t know what I believe in. Tell me what you want to hear and I will repeat it.”
Bernier preached his own trustworthiness, telling the audience not to worry, he isn’t just pandering to Alberta, but says the same thing in every province and every city, coast to coast and in English and French.
“When I’m in New Brunswick or Quebec, I’m speaking about pipelines,” he said. “It is my goal to convince other Canadians it is great to have more pipelines in this country and I’m doing that in French and in English, in Alberta, outside Alberta.”
He did however, touch on the rising tide of separatist sentiment in Alberta.
“Some of you are thinking of separation,” he said. “You are fed up with the federal government. Separation is not the solution. […] In Quebec, we have two national sports — hockey and referendum. I don’t want you to have two national sports — I want you to stay with one national sport, hockey.”
Bernier’s ultimate message was about unifying the country, through limited government, personal freedom and ultimately, fairness. In another attempt to prove he wasn’t pandering to Alberta, Bernier spoke about making equalization more fair for all provinces but stopped short of advocating for its abolition.
“We cannot abolish equalization,” he said. “It is in the constitution. I won’t re-open the constitution.”
Bernier joked that “maybe three economists in the country” understand the equalization formula, touching briefly on how intensely complicated it actually is and indicating his willingness above other political parties to talk about it and help people understand that it isn’t fair.
He called the present formula a “poverty trap” that won’t allow poor provinces the incentive to have “good, free-market” policies at the provincial level.
Other topics included balancing the budget, Canada’s relationship with China, abolishing foreign aid while ensuring the generosity of Canadians is expressed during times of crisis, and, a supporter favourite in the packed conference centre — freedom of speech.
“It’s a little bit sad that a political party needs to have a policy on freedom of speech, in a free country like Canada in 2019, but yes, we have a policy on that,” he said. “For us, the more debate we have, the better it is.”
Bernier will get his chance to debate the other leaders during the official Federal Leaders Debate. The English-language debate will run from 7-9 p.m. ET on Monday, Oct. 7 and the French-language will follow on Thursday, Oct. 10 from 8-10 p.m. ET.