July 5, 2017 12:48 pm
Updated: July 5, 2017 1:54 pm

Bernier wing of Conservative Party spawns advocacy group ‘to keep pressure from within’

Conservative MP Maxime Bernier received a warm round of applause from his colleagues Monday when he rose to ask a question regarding the U.S. Commerce Department's decision regarding Bombardier.

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The Conservative leadership race may be over, but some members of Canada’s official opposition party are still feeling the Bernier.

A group of party activists from the Conservative Party’s classically liberal, or libertarian, wing that largely backed former leadership candidate Maxime Bernier has formed Conservative Futures, a non-profit advocacy organization designed, according to its founder, “to keep pressure on the Conservative Party from within.”

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“Basically, the Conservative Party at this point is a mature entity,” Emrys Graefe, who served as director of leadership runner-up Bernier’s digital operations, told Global News. “It’s a big tent party made out of constituent parts and Conservative Futures is about representing one of those parts.”

The group intends to keep at the forefront of Canadian political debate the free market and small-government-oriented policies that propelled Bernier to the top of the first ballot at the party’s May leadership convention.

Bernier ultimately lost to Andrew Scheer in a nailbiter that went 13 ballots, with Scheer garnering support from social conservative voters who backed Brad Trost and Pierre Lemieux as well as supporters of moderate candidates including Erin O’Toole, Lisa Raitt and Michael Chong. On the final ballot, Scheer recieved 50.95 per cent of the points in the party’s voting system, while Bernier got 49.05 per cent.

Graefe said it was a trip to Washington, D.C. in 2012 to the Conservative Political Action Conference that served as the inspiration to form an advocacy framework for one faction of the conservative movement back home in Canada.

“I realized how much larger the conservative movement in America is than the Republican Party,” he noted. “And, at that point, I found it in my head that in Canada the Conservative Party at the time was almost bigger than the movement itself, and I want to see that change: I want the conservative movement in Canada to be bigger than the party.”

He said that bringing public attention to positions supporting the deregulation of supply management of dairy, poultry and eggs or the opening up of the telecommunications sector to foreign investment could create an environment where the Conservative Party as an institution would be more comfortable accepting them.

“We want to help create the space in the public realm that the Conservative Party can then go and occupy,” added Graefe. “Because parties generally can’t forge beyond public opinion, it takes advocacy groups to help push forward with public opinion so that political parties can go and occupy those territories.”

A screenshot of the website for advocacy group Conservative Futures, which aims to push for free market policies within the Conservative Party of Canada.

Website Screenshot / conservativefutures.ca

Conservative Futures is not without support from heavy hitters: Bernier himself lent his voice to the group’s newly launched website, penning a piece arguing for the abolition of corporate subsidies. Ontario MP Alex Nuttal, who served as Bernier’s campaign manager, offered his own in opposition to Ontario’s minimum wage increase. In addition to Graefe, former Conservative MP Brian Storset is a member of its board of directors.

And, while a splinter advocacy group might seem like a rift in the opposition, Graefe said it is a sign that the party, founded in 2003 through the merger of the Progressive Conservatives and the Canadian Alliance, has matured and can accommodate wide-ranging debate. He also believes there is promise from the new Conservative leader: “Andrew Scheer had some really positive policies that a group like ours is really glad to see: the extension of private property rights on a province by province basis is fantastic, he promised to scrap corporate welfare and that’s fantastic. So there’s a lot of common ground.”

As an incorporated non-profit, Conservative Futures will be able to raise money and use those funds to conduct campaigns or programs to support its agenda. (Bernier’s free market friendly campaign raised more money than all of its competitors, bringing in over $2 million during the leadership contest.)

READ MORE: Federal Conservatives out-fundraise Liberals in 2016, but spend more doing it

Whether the organization might also participate in direct political organizing within the party (for things like candidate nominations, where the U.S. conservative Tea Party movement has aided the congressional Republican Freedom Caucus, or with selective endorsement of candidates, which the left-wing U.S. Democratic Socialists of America occasionally uses), Graefe would not say.

“We have very big plans that at this point we’re not going to divulge. But we do have very big plans for this organization.”

© 2017 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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