Last week, just before the Conservative Party of Canada’s 2018 convention in Halifax, Maxime Bernier announced that he was leaving the party to form his own. The immediate response from Tories and most of the press was dismissive. From the convention state to Twitter, Conservative leaders and most of the media waved off Bernier as a “party of one”. They were wrong.
A MacLeans piece, shared widely on social media, seemed to sum up the convention. Monte Solberg, a former Reform, and Conservative MP wrote, I was a Reform MP, and I supported Maxime Bernier for leader. Here’s why he’ll fail and framed his arguments in terms of why the Reform Party succeeded and why it is different from Bernier’s proposed party.
“Preston Manning’s Reform Party started in 1987 but didn’t run a full slate of candidates until 1993, my first election. Preston and his tiny team crisscrossed the country searching for candidates, providing training and communicating in the form of monthly fireside chats sent out on cassette tapes. That’s how we learned the right tone and messaging in speaking to difficult issues while driving from church basement, to community hall, to kitchen table.”
However this analysis ignores the fact that it is no longer 1993. It ignores the fact that ideology as a political force has increased. It ignores the rise of populism and Trumpism and it ignores the rise of social media.
On the fringes of the political spectrum, left or right, there are purity police. On the right, these are people, who want to be as conservative as humanly possible, even when it reaches the state of not being traditionally “conservative” anymore. They are the Canadians who use the #MAGA hashtag without irony. They are the people who dominate the comment sections of news outlets and YouTube, who troll Liberal cabinet ministers on Twitter. They get their news from, and believe, the Toronto Sun, Rebel Media, Breitbart and Fox News. They are the people on whom the Conservative Party’s over the top rhetoric on asylum seekers, refugees and immigrants worked a little too well. They are also Maxime Bernier’s target audience and they are interested.
The first poll, conducted by Abacus Research, to be released concerning Bernier’s proposed party would have roughly 13% support if there were an election today. That is just 3% behind the NDP and 7% ahead of the Greens. According to the poll, the party would do best in the places where the Conservatives have to win; Alberta (18%), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (17%) and Quebec (15%). Obviously, one poll about a hypothetical party doesn’t mean much but this one does mean that the ‘party of one’ line is wishful thinking.
Bernier’s party also has considerable room to grow and the potential to so quite quickly. The Abacus poll only asked about “a new party which would reduce immigration, end supply management and avoids retaliatory tariffs against the US.” That is hardly a full platform and leaves plenty of room to reach out to other constituencies, such as social conservatives who have largely been shut out of the CPC platform.