Former Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier split from the Conservative Party of Canada this week in a stunning defiance of current head Andrew Scheer.
Bernier’s plans to start his own party has many policy analysts posturing about what impact this move could have on the 2019 federal election.
To answer this question, a postdoctoral fellow with the University of Toronto’s history department, Christo Aivalis, explained that it depends on which policy points Bernier chooses to highlight in his platform.
WATCH: The Panel: Maxime Bernier leaves the PC Party
“Bernier really tried to combine his pro-free-market ideology with a real skepticism of multiculturalism, of diversity, for any kind of discourse around race and gender that talks about privilege,” explained Aivalis, whose research primarily focuses on Canadian labour and political history.
Based on points he’s emphasized throughout his tenure as a vocal Conservative MP, Aivalis said it’s reasonable to assume Bernier’s party platform will be “stridently free market,” and may direct a critical eye towards Canadian immigration policy and multiculturalism.
WATCH: Doug Ford says Conservatives need to stand together as party faces Bernier controversy
“I have come to realize over the past year that this party is too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed,” Bernier said in his exit announcement.
Here’s what may differentiate a Bernier-driven political party from the federal Conservative Party of Canada:
Abandoning Supply Management
Bernier has frequently and vocally opposed Canada’s supply management system for dairy, eggs and other poultry products, which attempts to limit the supply of products to what Canadians are likely to consume to ensure stable pricing.
In his final speech, Bernier again referenced supply management as a Conservative Party policy point with which he disagreed.
“I know for a fact that many in the caucus privately oppose supply management, but buying votes in a few key ridings is more important than defending the interest of our Canadians,” Bernier concluded in his announcement.
Aivalis agrees that abandoning Canada’s supply management system, “which is obviously a big contention point between him and Scheer,” would likely be at the forefront of a political party led by Bernier.
Privatizing health care, other public services
Aivalis also predicts that Bernier could turn on public health care and other publicly available services, given his historically free-market leanings.
“He’ll probably take a more aggressive position on the privatization of public services, on maybe allowing a private option for Medicare,” said Aivalis.
WATCH: Maxime Bernier quits Conservatives; may form new party
Bernier has also often added his voice to the telecom debate, pledging in the past to phase out the CRTC as a telecom regulator and allow foreign communications companies such as Verizon to operate in Canada to bring more competition to the telecom space.
Immigration and Multiculturalism
In recent months, Bernier has made a point of criticizing both the Trudeau government and the Conservative Party’s embrace of multiculturalism. Aivalis predicts that the immigration policies of his new political party could resemble the current Trump administration more than it does any current Canadian political parties at the federal level.
“In terms of multiculturalism, it’s sort of a third rail in Canadian politics. You can’t really be against it. Bernier seems to be saying that this extreme multiculturalism has become something unpalatable to real Canadians if you will,” said Aivalis.
READ MORE: Scott Thompson: Bye bye, Bernier!
“The whole strategy of the party is to play identity politics, pander to various immigrant groups and buy votes with promises just like the Liberals,” said Bernier, referring to the Conservative Party, in his exit speech.
“The Conservative Party tries to avoid important, yes, controversial issues of concern to conservatives and Canadians in general.”
Aivalis highlighted some of Bernier’s comments about immigration in recent months, including many that have been critical of who is admitted through Canada’s immigration system.
“He’s said that one of our problems in Canada is that we accept people that won’t accept our values. What’s his solution for that? We don’t know yet,” said Aivalis.
What does this mean for the Conservative Party in the 2019 vote?
In light of his dramatic departure, many are openly questioning whether Bernier’s fledgling political movement is enough to make a dent in Conservative support in the upcoming 2019 election.
Jason Lietaer, the former Executive Director of the Conservative Resource Group, reporting to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, tweeted that just losing one or two per cent of the Conservative base could spell trouble for Scheer.
Lietaer told Akin on Twitter earlier that day that “we’re going to need every vote we can scrounge,” meaning that simply losing one to two per cent of the Conservative vote could be “devastating” for Scheer.
Even former Prime Minister Stephen Harper suggested that Bernier was attempting to divide Conservatives.
However, Aivalis offers another alternative — one where Bernier’s political party situates so far to the right that his proposals wind up alienating many right-of-centre Canadians. Should Bernier champion ideas such as privatized health care, for example, the Conservative Party now has the opportunity to present a slightly more moderate option.
This way, Aivalis speculates that Scheer may be able to gather votes from both moderate and staunch Conservatives. Furthermore, Aivalis suggests that Bernier’s right-leaning policies could shift the boundaries of what’s politically acceptable to more traditionally Conservative territory.
“If Bernier has some kind of sustained success where he can keep this party alive, he can shape the overtone window in Canadian politics – the realm of what’s politically viable and acceptable – and he could try shifting that to the right.”