It is no secret that Maxime Bernier has an uphill battle heading into the 2019 election. Bernier is not a political outsider, he is an establishment politician through and through, but that very establishment he has devoted his long life in politics to has turned its back on the controversial MP. Bernier now sits alone at the parliamentary bench, with no party to call home.
In many ways Bernier’s current predicament finds some historical parallels with the plight of 1st century Roman senator Catiline, who was discovered by Cicero to be plotting the armed overthrow of the Roman senate. The event is now remembered as the Catiline Conspiracy, and was one of the early signs of a fractured late Roman Republic. Unlike Catiline, Maxime Bernier is not secretly plotting the end of confederation. However, like the Roman senator, Maxime is a political elite disillusioned with his former compatriots.
The famous scene of Cicero’s orations against Catiline was captured best in the iconic painting on the subject by the Italian artist Cesare Maccari (1889). In the painting, the ousted senator sits abandoned by his political fellows in a row of empty seats as Cicero denounces his former peer before the seat of government. While history has deemed Catiline as a predecessor to the turmoil of the Roman Empire and an enemy of the Republic, recent scholarship has shown him to be a political reformer and adopted representative of the common people. Similarly, Maxime is counting on the grassroots to mobilize for his message, a message which is largely about reforming the current political system.
Let’s be clear, Maxime is no Catiline, but he is definitely being treated like one. Without the institutional sway and financial backing that comes with representing a long established party, Maxime needs to route supporters and assemble on fields far from Parliament Hill.
Bernier has been busy since his late August resignation. It is likely that his time has been spent taking private phone calls, mobilizing a sympathetic network and plotting out the parameters of a new party. Maxime’s party is set to be announced next week, leaving nearly a year between its founding charter and its first federal election.
2019 will undeniably be the testing grounds for Maxime’s gambit and the polls will either leave him sprawled on the political battlefield or intact with an entirely new power-base. There are several large obstacles in his way, bound to rear their head at one point or another.
1. Creating a party infrastructure that will outlast him
Right now, support for Bernier’s hypothetical party equates to support for the man as an individual. A precedent can be found in The Reform Party of Canada and Preston Manning’s hold over the new party. Both Manning and Bernier faced accusations of splitting the vote and pursuing personal ambition over the welfare of conservatism in Canada.
While the Reform Party’s efforts lead to a synthesis in conservatism culminating in the contemporary Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), Bernier’s split from the party might effectively be more permanent.
As recently reported by The Post Millennial, the Libertarian Party of Canada will be voting to merge with Maxime Bernier’s new party. This will be a boon to Maxime’s cause, as the libertarian movement has an identifiable and coherent message. However, Maxime’s leadership style might butt heads with the furious independence of libertarians.
2. Attracting the alt-right crowd
An alternative right-wing party is bound to be labelled as alt-right. While many libertarians have tried to shed the label since its conception surrounding the election of Donald Trump, critics won’t be as quick to forget the damaging moniker.
Do I think that Maxime Bernier is “alt-right”? No.
Do I think that his party will attract a segment of the population disillusioned with the current state of conservatism? Absolutely.
Maxime has two options: to readily embrace any and all popular support, or attempt to disavow these elements early on into his campaign. While nobody can prevent, nor would want to sway people from voting for them, Bernier can definitely be selective in who he ends up putting on the ballot. As the recent provincial election in Ontario has shown, the alt-right label can be damaging if not deadly.
3. Avoiding being seen as putting U.S. interests above Canadian interests
Bernier has increasingly stated his dissatisfaction with the way the NAFTA negotiations have been progressing. He suggests that Canadians need to put supply management on the table to deal fairly with our US counterparts. However, running with that issue too far might appear to outside supporters as attempting to garner favour with the U.S. President.
Putting foreign interests above the welfare of Canadian citizens and businesses could be the venomous sting that sends his movement into the ground. Canadians have historically been insistent on forging a destiny distinct from the North American powerhouse.
Maxime Bernier’s party will likely be accused of foreign interest. This has increasingly become the go-to offensive for the left seeking to parade themselves as the patriotic political half. Maxime will need to tow a fine line between convincing Canadians that ending supply management will be beneficial to their well-being and dealing with the U.S. as a potential competitor. This will include being very careful which lobbies he accepts support from and how much his rhetoric comes off as aligned with American interests.
4. Getting disillusioned voters to the polls
The most recent numbers show Maxime Bernier polling at 17% in popular opinion. This is surprising for a party that is merely hypothetical at this point. In recent tweets, Maxime has indicated that his efforts are not only directed at amassing votes from across the political spectrum but also getting disillusioned voters out to exercise their national duties.
3/ Second, the new party will not just take votes away from the CPC, but also from Libs and other parties, as a poll showed last week. And because it offers something new, it will motivate many among the 35% of Cdns who abstain. GAINING new votes will make the difference.
— Maxime Bernier (@MaximeBernier) September 2, 2018
This is entirely possible, and if achieved successfully, it might land him a formidable place as a contender in the newly formed parliament. Justin Trudeau’s personality and marketing strategy was able to deliver him one of the highest voter turnout (68%) the country has seen since 1993. If Maxime can budge that number above 70% it will undoubtedly be to his favour and to the country’s benefit.