The most intriguing Conservative in Ottawa these days is Maxime Bernier. The Quebecer, who was bounced from cabinet a couple of years ago, separates himself from the others in his party because he isn’t afraid to speak his mind.
Most all other Conservatives have sadly been reduced to courtiers and toadies for fear of what might happen to them if they say anything off cue.
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Bernier fell from grace as a result of his affair with Julie Couillard, the woman who hung around with biker gangs. She subsequently wrote a book, quoting Bernier as calling the prime minister a control freak among other things. Mad Max, as the tall charismatic Bernier is sometimes called, figures he has no future under Harper. So why not rock the boat?
In speeches, he’s come out against the need for big stimulus to get the country out of the recession. As well, he sees no need for government activism to combat climate change. In one speech he put a new twist on the famous line from John F. Kennedy. Said Bernier, “Don’t ask what your country can do for you. Ask your government to get out of the way.”
His Darwinian musings have prompted some observers to suggest he is openly challenging Harper, aiming at a leadership run. That’s a bit of a stretch. But it was interesting to note that in a speech to the Preston Manning Institute on the weekend, he was full of praise for the goals of the old Reform Party, but failed to mention Stephen Harper once. That raised a few more eyebrows.
On Quebec policy, Mad Max is far to the right of the party, arguing that free-market policy prescriptions is the way to Quebecers’ hearts. In his riding of La Beauce he is hugely popular, winning by a giant margin — even after “bikergate.”
Bernier is also the only Conservative MP to run his own blog. Garth Turner, the one Tory who tried that before, was hoofed out of the caucus for not toeing the party line.
Bernier sounds like he wants to bring the politics of Ronald Reagan north of the border. It’s a bit early for anyone to start thinking of the Conservative leadership. But should Harper not get a majority in the next election, which will be his fourth kick at the can, it may be time.
Meanwhile it’s nice to see a Conservative who has the courage to air his views. Bernier had better watch his back, though. It’s not a government that takes kindly to this type of thing.
Lawrence Martin is a journalist and author of 10 books who writes about national affairs from Ottawa.