In October 2015, Stephen Harper had everything going for him. Four of out five of Canada’s economic sectors were booming. Canada, under Harper’s leadership, outperformed every other major G20 country during the financial crisis. He offered deep tax cuts, security, and experience. Yet somehow, he managed to lose an election to a man with no experience, nothing on his resume, no policy education to speak of, no management background, who failed to answer a question without a script and failed to speak off-script in Parliament in a coherent manner.
That was Harper’s election to lose, and he lost it. He was given horrible campaign advice when he decided to target Quebec — Canada’s only exclusively-French province. He tossed around the idea of a Niqab ban, something popular in rural Quebec, eager to protect their culture, and unpopular elsewhere. He kept citing that the majority of Muslims oppose the Niqab, which is true, but as it turns out, Muslims want to make these decisions for themselves. They didn’t come to his defense, and Harper was branded a xenophobe, giving rise to Trudeau.
The Conservatives were shattered. It was time for a new leader. In stepped Maxime Bernier — a self-described libertarian. During his bid for the leadership of the Conservative Party, he espoused libertarian principles. He wanted to deregulate farming cartels, lowering the price of groceries, balance the budget, he wanted to deregulate the telecommunications industry, giving Canadians more options for cell phone providers, and he wanted to cut taxes in greater percentages than anything Canada has seen in over a century.
It was a hard-fought campaign between him and Andrew Scheer. Bernier’s ideas were resonating with Canadians. He won the heart and soul of the Conservative Party with his principles. Scheer won the old-guard Conservatives: The special interest voters came out in droves for Scheer. In the end, in a 49% to 51% finish, Scheer defeated Bernier.
After over a year of demotions and public distancing by Scheer to Bernier, Bernier was frustrated and started his own political party. He immediately polled at an impressive 13%. After a series of interviews, his popularity rose to 17%. Bernier could have continued to gain momentum to conceivably oust the dominant Liberal and Conservative parties, which have ruled Canada throughout my grandfather’s lifetime.
However, the public distancing came when Bernier began making some odd posts over social media concerning immigrants. His new party campaigned heavily on reducing the number of immigrants coming to Canada.
This was a play very popular in Britain. Brexit won the hearts and minds of the British people campaigning against the influx of immigrants. It was a play extremely popular in the United States as well. Trump won the Electoral College with this strategy.
In Canada, however, this play lead to Bernier’s popularity diminishing. Today he polls between 1-3%. His campaign is dwindling to the brink of irrelevance.
The reason isn’t because Canada is free of xenophobia. Generic sentiments among European Canadians toward our indigenous population and vice versa indicates a high level of xenophobia. Divides between English Canada and French Canada are sharply increasing.
The reason why Canadians rejected Bernier is simple: Canada doesn’t have an immigration problem. In the United States, there are over 11 million illegal immigrants. Despite Canada having 1/10th of the population, we only have about 100,000 illegals within our borders.
The UK had immigration problems so extensive that those coming from Islamic cultures were gaining enough numbers to begin enforcing their values on other Britons, banning alcohol for example in some municipalities.
But both Brexit and the Trump campaigned praising Canada’s points-based immigration system during their elections.
The more Bernier campaigns against Canadians celebrating Indian independence day, the more he seems irrelevant and racist. Canadians don’t have a problem with people throwing fiestas of their ethnic origin. We have a tax problem, we have a grocery bill problem, we have issues with our cell providers; we don’t have a problem with rice curry and yoga. When Bernier focused on issues impacting Canadians, he won, but when he focused on issues that impacted Britons and Americans, he lost.
He followed the siren song of a xenophobic campaign that worked elsewhere. It had a track record of success. He envisioned himself carving out a populist base. Just as Harper failed against one of the weakest party leaders in our country’s history, Maxime Bernier is dwindling to nothing by focusing on issues no one cares about.