Diversity of Opinions: Why Maxime Bernier’s Split is a Good Thing

If you enjoy verbal and mental gymnastics in politics, the PC Party has provided you quite a show this week.

In Ontario, we’ve watched Doug Ford’s Ontario PC Party try to wrangle their way around the Health Curriculum repeal. Teachers have been threatened with what’s been called a “snitch line” if they continue to teach the updated curriculum. A shoddy, copy-and-pasted interim curriculum which, in its ironically-titled least developed section, Growth and Development, has short bullet points where the more “controversial” teachings would have been (things like “LGBT families exist” and “your penis is actually called a penis) are boxed in. The year “1998” is actually allowed to exist alongside the phrase “last taught in 2014”, making you wonder if somebody within the party missed the memo.

In almost the same breath, the party then started making statements about whether cellphone use impacts student learning, or if Discovery Math is actually not the best way to teach. Items which, on their own, are both worthy of public discussion, but are getting drowned out by a controversy that seems designed to gain points with the socially conservative voters that backed Ford’s victory. So now PC supporters are in a situation where they have to debate the merits of cell phone technology in the classroom while trying to reconcile a curriculum that was invented before a sext was a thing.

Federally, PC MP Maxime Bernier’s tear against diversity and multiculturalism seem to have been the catalyst for his leaving the Party to strike out on his own. He’s doubling down on the old “I’m not xenophobic even though what I said sounds pretty xenophobic” trope, and though he led his resignation declaration with a hefty section on economic policy, that wasn’t the part most people were paying attention to. Now, there seems to be a palpable fear amongst Conservatives that this split will hand Justin Trudeau and the Liberals another win.

It might. And a Trudeau win might actually be a good thing for the Conservatives, and the country as a whole. Regardless of whether Trudeau and the Liberals are actually the best choice.

Maybe it’s time for two conservative-leaning parties in Canada?

A year ago, when Patrick Brown was the Ontario PC leader, before he was arguing about how many floor were in his residence and sprinting from floor-to-floor to avoid reporter questions, there was a palpable hope surrounding that party. As somebody who was fed up with the corruption of Kathleen Wynne’s Liberals, and who has been less than impressed by Andrea Horvath, I was willing to hear what Brown had to say, and the reason I was willing is because he appeared to be dragging the party forward on social issues. We’ll never know if that would have stuck, or if it was an attempt to draw from fed-up centrist Liberals. Still, it looked like we could actually have a policy debate amongst the leaders rather than a social one.

We know how it went from there.

Now, wouldn’t it have been interesting if there was a split where the “Fiscally Conservative, Socially Liberal” Conservatives (either through Brown, or some Christine Elliot/Caroline Mulroney combo) faced off against Ford or his then-chief leadership supporter, Tanya Granic-Allen? You’d see, provincially, where the lines were drawn. Those who want to go socially backwards have a place to throw their vote, and those who don’t want to go in that direction can actually vote for somebody as opposed to the party most likely to have taken out Wynne.

Maxime Bernier’s resignation, and the disagreements he detailed with Andrew Scheer’s party direction, read like a policy declaration. There’s a clear line that people who want to vote for Bernier can follow, and that line includes his views on diversity. With those views as part of his platform, there’s now distance between that and any Conservative platform. Ultimately, for the long-term growth of the remaining Conservative party, having more than one view represented on the right could be a good thing.

There is absolutely risk involved. The most obvious risk is losing an election by splitting your vote, which the left has been doing for years. Of course, the alternative is a combined party on the left facing one party on the right, and there’s a pretty glaring cautionary tale about why that isn’t the best idea right along our southern border.

Plus, you also run the risk of emboldening the more fringe elements out there. We’ve seen that recently with the Wildrose experiment in Alberta. This whole thing requires some faith that the Progressives may have more pull than, and outnumber, the Conservatives in that party who are hanging on to a past vision of Canada that may never really have existed. Few people enjoy hearing backwards views espoused on the national stage.

Still, for years, I’ve listened to friends who label themselves as the aforementioned “Fiscal Conservative, Social Liberal” have to try to justify why they’ve voted for a party who still finds itself dragging behind on social issues ranging from multiculturalism to abortion to LGBT rights.

Maybe a split Conservative party finally gives them that chance.

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