(This article originally appeared in the Ottawa Hill Times.)
Watch out Conservative Party establishment, lurking within your midst is an unabashed, unapologetic, unequivocal rebel, a rebel with a right-wing cause.
I’m talking about Maxime Bernier, whose candidacy for the Conservative Party leadership has taken on the form of an outright assault against traditional Canadian Toryism.
Sounds like fun, right?
Well, before anybody gets too excited, let me remind you that Bernier is only a “rebel” in the Conservative sense, meaning his “rebellion” will be about as exciting as an episode of the old Lawrence Welk Show.
But still, for the politically-inclined at least, it should be fascinating to watch Bernier kick up an ideological ruckus within a party whose motto should be – “Boring is Good”.
Certainly, Bernier’s campaign has been anything but boring.
In a bold move, he’s embraced a Ronald Reagan/Margaret Thatcher style of conservatism, the kind of conservatism which rails against the state’s coercive powers, which believes in maximizing individual freedom, and which would never, ever get caught dead watching the CBC.
In short, it’s the kind of conservatism which hates big government.
Indeed, if you check out Bernier’s Facebook page, you’ll see a meme that claims – “Good government is less government”.
Bernier is also walking the talk; only a few weeks into his campaign and he has already adopted some radically conservative anti-government ideas, such as his pledges to end Supply Management and to scrap the CRTC.
And make no mistake; what Bernier is doing, the kind of conservatism he’s promoting, is a direct challenge to modern-day Tory orthodoxy.
After all, according to the dogma of the Conservative Party’s elites, anti-government conservatism, with its emphasis on free markets and on personal liberty and on smaller government, is supposed to be ideologically more suited for “ruggedly individualistic” Americans, than it is for “peace, order and good government” Canadians.
As former Conservative Senator Hugh Segal once put it, “The deep-seated anti-government bias that often attends upon conservative groups is not central to Canadian Toryism.”
And by “Canadian Toryism” Segal is actually talking about a uniquely Canadian brand of conservatism usually dubbed “Red Toryism,” an outlook that combines reverence for the past with a reverence for acting and talking and sounding like big government Liberals.
Anyway, thanks to Red Toryism, the Conservative Party (and before that the Progressive Conservative Party) has always accepted the status quo when it comes to the size and scope of Canada’s federal government.
Bernier, on the other hand, is brazenly challenging that status quo, which is what makes his leadership bid revolutionary.
By the way, taking on the Conservative establishment in this manner is strategically not a bad idea.
By claiming the mantle of ideological purity and by putting himself on the same philosophic plane as past conservative heroes, Bernier has set himself apart from the rest of the pack.
What’s more, leadership candidates who stress ideology over pragmatism generally attract an enthusiastic following from a party’s core of “true believers,” making it easier to raise money and easier to win over volunteers.
Still, what Bernier is doing also has major risks.
For one thing, his campaign will attract lots of enmity from the powerful and influential Red Tory brigades both inside and outside the party, who will castigate his stances as unConservative if not unCanadian.
And the other, more daunting, challenge for Bernier is that his style of pro-individual freedom conservatism has of late become passé and is actually losing ground all over the world, not only to left-wing socialism, but also to right-wing populism.
So Bernier’s path will be difficult.
But then again, nobody ever said being a rebel would be easy.