Maxime Bernier came to Calgary last week and it was clear he has lots of fans here.
Lots of fans.
About 400 people — 90 per cent male, and 99 per cent white — jammed into a hotel conference room on Friday night and enthusiastically applauded almost everything Bernier said. They praised him effusively during the question period and mobbed him when he finished speaking.
The same kind of thing happened in Vancouver the night before.
The renegade Conservative MP officially launched his own party — The People’s Party of Canada — just over a month ago but it is already up and running in eight out of 10 Calgary federal ridings.
It’s not entirely surprising to see so much support for Bernier in Alberta. During the Conservative leadership race, which he narrowly lost, Alberta delegates gave him almost as much support as delegates from his home province of Quebec.
Many Alberta conservatives like Bernier’s libertarian approach: his emphasis on freedom from big government. He wants less tax credits for special groups and tax cuts for everyone. He wants less immigration and big cuts in foreign aid. He wants a less restrictive firearms policies. He would privatize Canada Post and turn CBC into a subscription service.
He said he would allow for a debate on abortion if one of his MPs wanted to table a bill on the matter.
And when he said “no more political correctness” the crowd roared in approval.
There’s nothing Trump-like about Bernier. He’s dapper, funny, well-spoken, bilingual, and knows the issues inside out.
But there sure were a lot of echoes of Trump from the audience.
A climate change denier got up and insisted that Canada pull out of the Paris agreement on climate change. Several said Canada should pull out of the United Nations altogether.
The male tilt of the audience was overwhelming. At most, only 10 per cent were women. The rest were mostly men over 50, although there were plenty of young and middle-aged men. All the questions came from men and even when a woman in the back yelled out “question from a lady” she was ignored.
When I asked men in the audience why they liked Bernier, three said separately: “Because he’s not a globalist, he’s a nationalist.” One said something else straight out of Trump’s repertoire: “We need to put Canada first.”
Given that Canada is not a mighty economic and military power like the United States but depends on multilateralism this seem at odds with reality, to say the least.
One young man said he had three reasons for supporting Bernier: Less immigration, less foreign aid, and less restrictive firearms regulations.
Another said Canada needs to follow in the footsteps of European countries, like Poland, Hungary and Italy, which now have populist governments. He didn’t mention the authoritarian tendencies of those governments.
It’s too early to tell if Bernier’s support here will translate into significant vote splitting in Alberta’s Conservative stronghold and other provinces during next year’s federal election.
Even if it does, Bernier and his supporters don’t seem to care that they may be helping the Trudeau Liberals to another victory. When an audience member asked Bernier if he and PPC MPs would cross the floor to support Scheer’s Conservatives in the event of a Liberal minority government, people yelled out “no, no.”
“I would die before I would do that,” Bernier replied and the room erupted in applause.
Bernier likes being called “Mad Max” and is obviously enjoying his new career as a right-wing provocateur.
He was slated to be a featured speaker at a conference on Saturday in Calgary organized by The Rebel, Canada’s far-right online news and views disseminator that is so extremist even Conservative politicians shun it.
On Wednesday Bernier will hold a rally in Etobicoke.
The PPC leader has obviously found a niche in Canadian politics that he needs as much as it needs him.
The Trumpian tilt of that niche may be its undoing. But if Bernier’s party continues to grow, other conservative politicians, such as Doug Ford and Jason Kenney, may be emboldened to become more Trumpian too.
Given the chaos in the U.S, not exactly something to look forward to.
© Toronto Star