Maxime Bernier, Quebec MP and former Foreign Minister, narrowly lost his bid for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada on Saturday to Saskatchewan MP and former House of Commons Speaker Andrew Scheer by just 49% to Scheer’s 51%.
Scheer is a close ally of former Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was criticized by libertarians during his tenure for his support for Keynesian-style stimulus spending. The relatively bland and generic Scheer is generally associated with the party establishment, while Bernier was seen as an outsider candidate.
Bernier was believed to be the frontrunner in this race after the impromptu withdrawal of fellow outsider and Shark Tank star Kevin O’Leary, who went on to endorse Bernier.
However, the ranked ballot system used in the leadership election, which involves eliminating lower polling candidates and transferring their votes to the voter’s subsequent preferences, made the ultimate result difficult to predict. This system appears to have benefited Scheer, who had less personal support, but had the benefit of being less polarizing than other candidates.
Bernier performed unusually poorly in his home province of Quebec, even losing the area he represents in Canada’s Parliament, Beauce, to Scheer. Many in Quebec benefit from Canada’s statist agricultural policy of supply management, which Bernier seeks to abolish. Supply management has been a major flashpoint in Canada-U.S. trade relations, with President Trump lambasting the policy for its unfairness towards American dairy farmers.
Bernier somewhat made up for his lack of support in Canada’s east with strong support in provinces in Canada’s Mountain West, such as Alberta, where his limited government ideology resonated with Conservative voters. Unfortunately, it appears this was not enough to prevail over Scheer.
Bernier, a self-described Ron Paul fan and an adherent to Austrian economics, previously did an interview with The Liberty Conservative late last year. Much like Trump, Bernier embraced the use of memes during his the campaign, and garnered the support of prominent Canadian libertarian commentators such as Lauren Southern. He also pitched himself as strong on immigration, calling for Canadian troops to be deployed to the border with the United States to prevent migrants denied refugee status there from illegally crossing the border to apply for refugee status in Canada. Bernier’s strong support from Canada’s young, libertarian-leaning, Trump-inspired new right managed to push Scheer in a positive direction on several important issues, with Scheer pledging last month to defund colleges that do not protect the free speech of students.
Although this result may dismay libertarians in Canada and beyond, Bernier’s close second place finish demonstrates that libertarian ideas do have electoral potential with a right-of-center electorate when combined with a healthy dose of anti-establishment populism. Should Scheer fail to beat Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the 2019 Canadian general election, Bernier will be well-positioned to succeed him as Conservative leader and take on Trudeau in the 2023 general election.