John Ivison: Maxime Bernier launches people’s party but he’s an unconvincing populist

Maxime Bernier is set to reveal details about his new party,
including its name Friday in Ottawa.

In an interview in his Parliament Hill office late Thursday, he
admitted he has registered the People’s Party of Canada but
that he also likes the Citizens’ Party.

Whatever Canada’s newest party ends up being called, some of
its traits are already clear, and others will become less
opaque after the press conference.

It is apparent, for example, that Bernier will oppose corporate
welfare in all its forms, as he has done so since he told a
bicycle factory owner in his riding of the Beauce, Que., that
as Conservative industry minister he would not support quotas
on cheap Chinese bicycles because it would increase the price
of bikes for all Canadians.

We know that Bernier will advocate for an end to the cartel of
supply management for dairy and poultry — a system he argues is
unfair and regressive for low-income earners. This has been
another Bernier staple for more than a decade.

“People are fed up of politicians who say one thing one day and
another the day after. What I’m looking for is doing politics
like I believe. People like authenticity and I think I have the
courage of my convictions and am authentic. That’s why people
like what I’m doing,” he said.

But when we discuss the murky topic of what he calls “extreme
multiculturalism” there is a sense that Maxime Bernier is not
as authentic as he would like you to believe.

He makes much of the fact that he is not looking to promote
policies simply to win votes. “I’m very different from other
politicians,” he said.

But elected officials tend not to be that distinct from one
another — the business of reaching for power contorts them all
in similar fashion.

On the diversity issue that sparked such controversy when he
suggested on Twitter that there should be limits, Bernier’s
thinking sounds muddled. He denies he’s playing the race card,
invoking dog-whistle politics or engaging in the same nativism
that resulted in him lampooning former Conservative leadership
rival Kellie Leitch as a “Karaoke Trump.”

But when I suggested his references to “diversity” led many
people to assume he is referring to people of colour, his
denial ends up sounding like an affirmation.

“They are misinterpreting what I am saying. When I talk about
diversity, I am talking about diversity of opinion, diversity
of values, diversity of what you believe,” he said. “I’ll give
you an example, if you have two people coming to Canada and one
of them wants to kill Jewish people and the other one doesn’t,
are we better to have two people who believe in different
things or two people coming to Canada who don’t want to kill
Jewish people?”

A charitable interpretation is that Bernier is musing aloud,
that he hasn’t really thought it through and the example quoted
came to him in the moment.

I remind him that in the Conservative leadership platform that
will form the basis for the new party’s policies, he described
tolerance for diversity as a “Canadian value.”

“I still believe that,” he said, before adding quickly, “I
don’t believe in mass immigration.”

The leadership platform advocated the admission of 250,000 new
entrants a year — a figure in line with the Harper government’s
average intake.

Yet, the Trudeau Liberals have increased the level to 310,000
this year, a number the Conference Board of Canada said will
help sustain long-term economic growth, given the rapidly aging
population and low birth rate. The number is high by historic
levels but reflects that the number of deaths will outpace the
birth rate by the 2030s.

On the one hand, Bernier says he believes in immigration in
line with the economic needs of the country but, on the other,
says the rate should be reduced from the target that many
economists believe will help drive growth.

The reasons are not clear.

“I believe in unity also — sharing the same values. Diversity
is good. This country is built on diversity and people coming
from different religions and points of view,” he said. “But
what I’m asking is that the people coming to Canada share our
Canadian values — respect for rule of law, equality of men and
women, the tolerance of diversity. What I’m asking is that if
you come to Canada, you must share our Canadian core values.”

What I’m asking is that the people coming to Canada share our
Canadian values

I ask him if he thinks there is a problem with integration of
immigrants, given studies suggest employment, earnings and
language outcomes between second-generation visible minority
groups and whites with Canadian-born parents are negligible;
that the children of immigrants learn Canadian values, social
norms and official languages through schools, friends and
neighbourhoods, all of which makes Canada a model for
integration. Is he focusing on a non-existent problem?

“I’m saying we must question this extreme multiculturalism —
people who come must integrate and yes, you’re right, they are
doing (that). The history of immigration in Canada is great,
it’s very positive. The change has happened under the Trudeau
government. People who come here have more points if they speak
English, they have more points if they speak French, so we have
a system and the system was working for the last half century.
The Trudeau government changed that in this mandate. I’m saying
we must go back to what we did in the past.”

Trudeau’s track record is certainly wide open to criticism.
This year just 57 per cent of immigrants will come from the
economic class, compared to 63 per cent of the 260,411 entrants
in the last full year of the Harper government (28 per cent
will be family class, compared to 25 per cent in 2014, while 14
per cent are set to be refugees, in contrast to just 11 per
cent four years ago).

The changes to increase family unification numbers by 20,000
people a year were transparent electoral bribes to immigrant
communities in the suburbs.

But Bernier hasn’t made the thoughtful policy case for
reversing those changes. Instead he has made vaguely illiberal
noises that attract the kind of fellow travellers who do not
respect the values the leader of Canada’s newest political
party claims to espouse — equality, respect for the law and
tolerance of diversity. Anyone who has followed Maxime
Bernier’s career over the past decade or more knows it is just
not him. Authentic? Not so much.

• Email: jivison@postmedia.com |
Twitter: IvisonJ

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