Alberta conservatives admonish, praise Maxime Bernier

The party machine was quick to pounce on the onetime leadership candidate, but there's a vein of conservatives in the province — where Bernier was popular during his leadership run — who thinks the problem lies more with the current party.

While many are on the attack against the onetime leadership hopeful, Derek Fildebrandt stands by fellow pariah

Maxime Bernier says he'll create his own party after leaving the federal Conservatives. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Reaction to Maxime Bernier's dramatic exit from the Conservative Party of Canada has been mixed in Alberta.

The party machine was quick to pounce on the onetime leadership candidate, denouncing him as a sore loser who doesn't know how to play on a team.

But there's a vein of conservatives in the province, where Bernier was popular during his leadership run, who thinks the problem lies more with the current party. 

Bernier dominated headlines on Thursday after calling the current Conservative party "intellectually and morally corrupt" while announcing his plans to create a new right wing party. 

Views on immigration

His exit came after he made controversial statements on Twitter in regard to immigration in Canada.

"I'm not sure people were shocked by the fact that Maxime Bernier is leaving the party, but I think they were shocked by the fact that he was so vehement about this," said Keith Brownsey, a political scientist at Mount Royal University. 

"I mean, morally and intellectually bankrupt, he described the Conservative party. Those are strong, strong words."

So strong they caught some of Bernier's local boosters off guard. 

"Like any divorce, I'm saddened by it and I think everyone's a loser for it within the Conservative party. It's unfortunate, it's a disappointment, but I don't think it's going to do any lasting damage," said Jay Hill, former MP for Prince George-Peace River, house leader and party whip who worked on Bernier's leadership campaign. 

Bernier received strong support in Calgary during the leadership convention. He received 35.5 per cent of the points in Alberta during the first round, and 53.1 per cent on the 13th round. 

During the first round, the only province that had a higher percentage of Bernier voters than Alberta was Quebec.

Going on the attack

Hill, who  now lives in Calgary, thinks most people will stay with the party and support leader Andrew Scheer, while downplaying the damage to the party. 

"Well, who remembers Belinda Stronach?" he said, referring to the once popular MP who left the party under former leader Stephen Harper. 

Calgary MP Michelle Rempel also went on the attack, saying Bernier has been busy talking about issues without actually doing any work to solve them. 

"If he works as hard as he has in the Conservative Party, we don't have a lot to worry about," she said when asked if she thought Bernier's new party would be an electoral threat.

The coming election

Others aren't so sure the breakup will pass without a hiccup. 

"Say you take away five per cent of the vote from the Conservative party, that brings them, if we look at the 2015 totals, around 30 per cent," said Brownsey. "You don't win anything at 30 per cent."

That kind of thinking has lead to some consternation among conservatives determined to oust Justin Trudeau's Liberals in the 2019 election. 

Others don't pin the blame on Bernier for the party's possible fortunes. 

Derek Fildebrandt is a natural supporter for Bernier.


Both men lean libertarian and now both are outside their established parties, trying to create their own — Fildebrandt was kicked out of the United Conservative Party after a series of scandals.

"The biggest fear is people are going to say, 'Well, what about Justin Trudeau?' And that is a legitimate fear. But the bigger question has to be, well, what are we replacing Justin Trudeau with?" he said. 

"Are we simply replacing the Liberals today with the Liberal five years ago, or are we going to replace it with something much more bold and different?"

Fildebrandt said he's been in touch with Bernier — whom he calls the "Albertan from Quebec" — every few weeks and says he saw the frustration growing. 

"If MPs and MLAs can't speak out, why do we elect them anyway? Why don't we elect a prime minster and an opposition leader and do that every four years," said Fildebrandt. 

"When you put the lid on a pot too tightly, eventually it boils over."

​With a files from John Paul Tasker and Eric Grenier.


Drew Anderson

Former CBC digital journalist

Drew Anderson was a digital journalist with CBC Calgary from 2015 to 2021 and is a third-generation Calgarian.