Maxime Bernier's former chief of staff lauds his 'courage' for quitting the Conservatives
Bernier 'talks about issues that are being ignored,' says Deborah Levy
By quitting the Conservatives and vowing to launch his own party, Quebec MP Maxime Bernier proved that he has the "courage that it takes to go outside party lines and stay true to one's convictions," says his former chief of staff.
Bernier made the announcement Thursday, calling the Conservative Party of Canada "too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed."
The move came after the MP ruffled feathers in the party by posting a string of tweets denouncing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's "extreme multiculturalism and cult of diversity," and personally insulting Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer.
So far, no Conservative lawmakers have joined Bernier in his bid to create a new party, but his former chief of staff Deborah Levy says Canadians shouldn't underestimate him.
Levy, who now runs the magazine Premières en Affaires, spoke to As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. Here is part of their conversation.
Beyond the libertarian vote, how much support do you think Maxime Bernier actually has today?
I think support he has comes from the conservative base and maybe other voters who see their voice as being represented from what I see as a void in the public discourse today.
He talks about issues that are being ignored. And also, people who see the courage that it takes to go outside party lines and stay true to one's convictions.
Do you think those people exist in significant enough numbers to give him political support that he would need to move forward?
I can tell you what I see online. I can tell you the comments I see. I can tell you what I see outside conservative circles, people that are now being interested in hearing what he has to say. I think this stance has an opportunity to broaden the audience for those ideas.
So just to be clear, do you support his decision to leave the party?
I admire his courage. I can't say that I support every political line he will take, but I support him as an individual who will break party lines to stay true to his ideas, and that I think is very rare with a political system that we have today.
You mentioned a few moments ago that you have seen lots of discussions online and, I guess, in various communities that are not being addressed by the Conservative Party of Canada that you think Mr. Bernier will address. Can you give me an idea of what kind of topics and ideas you're talking about?
We're talking about the limits of our democracy when it comes to multiculturalism.
We've seen how in other countries, sometimes these ... issues are not addressed and we end up having elections or an elected leader who's way more extreme — and I don't think I would want that to happen in Canada.
What do you mean by problems with multiculturalism?
In Quebec, we have issues with reasonable accommodation. We have issues with religion in the public spheres.
I think we have to address them.
The Conservative Party rejected Mr. Berner's use of "extreme multiculturalism" in that tweet. They're uncomfortable with that and see it as a divisive statement. Doesn't that tell you that that many Conservatives are uncomfortable with that conversation?
Well, we have to have this conversation.
Of course, in our society and our families, sometimes we're uncomfortable addressing things, but it's important to address them to go towards a sound future and build solid bases.
I guess I'm wondering whether you think that the party is concerned that that is sending a message to people who are newcomers to this country, for example, that they somehow have to join a melting pot as opposed to follow that tradition that we've developed in this country of being a multicultural nation?
I myself am from a newcomer family. My parents weren't born here. My parents were born in Algeria and Morocco and I do commend these positions.
I'd just like to get back to something we discussed a moment ago, and that is just to get a bit more clarity on your own thought. As we head into the fall, where do you want this debate on multiculturalism to go?
I think we have to have a discussion, a very open discussion and let everybody say what they have to say.
Let people express their thoughts before it expresses in an extreme party that could come to fruition in the not too distant future.
Is it not possible that that discussion itself will bring to the surface and embolden more racist elements in this country?
I've never been the victim of racism. As I told you, I'm not from Quebec or Canadian origin. But I think these elements exist, whatever voice you give them.
They could express themselves on the hidden web or dark web sites.
So it's better to have to confront them and give information and education and have an open debate, rather than pretending it doesn't exist and having Donald Trump elected here.
Do you think Mr. Bernier would be comfortable with the support of those people?
From what I know of Maxime Bernier, he has never been a racist or expressed anything racist. He's worked with different communities. I can't tell you what he's going to decide, but I don't think he would surf on that wave.
Written by Sheena Goodyear. Produced by Jeanne Armstrong. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.