Bernier’s move is about principles, but that doesn’t mean it will work

Maxime Bernier is either a foolhardy narcissist or the last remaining principled man in politics, depending on who you ask.

‘Mad Max’ left the Conservative Party of Canada last week, calling it “intellectually and morally corrupt” and vowing to launch what he posits as a true conservative alternative.

The move was spurned by almost all of official Canadian conservatism’s figures, including Jason Kenney, who served alongside Bernier as a minister; Stephen Harper, who twice appointed Bernier to cabinet; and Tony Clement, who was one of a small number of caucus members to endorse Bernier’s leadership bid last year.

I highlight these condemners in particular because they’ve all played a role in Bernier’s success as a politician. More importantly, they were all part of the tense—but necessary—uniting of the right in Canada just 15 years ago. Kenney also brought together both of Alberta’s conservative parties last year, and will most likely be the province’s next premier as a result.

A fractured right elects Liberals. It’s that simple. However, party splits have also been instrumental in reconnecting purportedly right-of-centre parties with their conservatism and their grassroots. This process requires several electoral losses along the way.

Preston Manning’s Reform Party did it for the federal Progressive Conservatives, just as the Wildrose Alliance did it for Alberta’s PCs. Both PC parties were governed by dysfunction, elitism, and statism at the times of their dissolutions. Frankly, I don’t see a parallel between them and Andrew Scheer’s Conservatives.

Bernier clearly disagrees. His announcement seemed inevitable, in many respects. The press conference—coinciding with the kickoff of the Conservative convention in Halifax—was the climax of an increasing alienation of Bernier from the party he almost became the leader of just 15 months ago.

A few weeks back, when Bernier was taking aim at Justin Trudeau’s cult of diversity, Scheer publicly condemned what he described as “identity politics” from Bernier.

After that, the writing was on the wall. Bernier was either going to leave caucus or get kicked out of it. Either way, his future wasn’t in that party.

I thought Scheer was wrong when he issued the statement, just as I thought he was wrong to eject Bernier from shadow cabinet earlier this summer over disagreements about supply management.
I defended Bernier in both of those instances. I also endorsed his leadership bid last year, though I wasn’t unhappy with Scheer’s victory (the party’s untenable position on dairy cartels not withstanding.)

Bernier says his exit is about principles. To Scheer and company, it’s simply ego. This is most likely a deeper and longer-standing rift that is only entering the public fray now.

If what comes next is about the issues, Bernier will be a credible force. His commentaries that attracted the ire of the Conservative establishment have, in my view, been spot on. I just wish it was the Conservative Party of Canada saying these things. Or, at the very least, not opposing them.

Whether or not this is true, Bernier’s departure sends a message that the Conservatives are no longer the oft-cited big tent party.

I was happy with a CPC bearing Andrew Scheer’s consensus-building, Maxime Bernier’s free market bona fides, Lisa Raitt’s experience, Michelle Rempel’s acuity, and Deepak Obhrai’s scarves. Stephen Harper forged a successful coalition with room for social conservatives, libertarians, and red Tories alike.

Much of that cohesion was illusory though. Instead of welcoming diversity of expression on contentious subjects, the Conservatives have historically pushed anything remotely controversial off the table in pursuit of ‘common ground’ policies like lower taxes and less red tape.

Bernier threatened the status quo by refusing to go along with positions at odds with those a free market-supporting party should be championing.

While supply management is hardly the most pressing concern in Canadian politics, it’s illustrative of the pandering that dominates all parties’ politics. It’s not as easy to ignore the giant quota-laden cow in the room now that supply management is central to a looming trade war with the United States.

I’d have more sympathy for the CPC’s support of supply management if all the MPs supporting it publicly also did so privately. Many do, but many don’t. I’ve had first-hand conversations with several caucus members to that effect.

This made it all the more uncomfortable for them to be forced, by Bernier, to defend it.

Bernier could either fall in line or walk away. He did the latter, risking his political career in the process.

Whether one supports or opposes this new party, it’s difficult to interpret it as anything less than a principled stand. Suppose Bernier stayed in the party and Justin Trudeau won re-election, proving Scheer to be as lacklustre as Bernier charges. Bernier could swoop in with a “Told ya so,” and present himself as a natural replacement.

This will be all but impossible now—especially if his party performs well enough that it can be blamed for a Conservative loss through all-too-familiar vote-splitting. That’s assuming, of course, Bernier is able to put together a 338-person slate with enough bench strength to be a viable and capable conservative party. With no caucus members preparing to flip—at least at this point—he’s got his work cut out for him.

Bernier must avoid his new party becoming a concession prize for unsuccessful CPC nomination contestants.

Depsite the lack of establishment support, he has momentum and grassroots support. While Twitter is (thankfully) not real life, the buzz for Bernier’s party is significant, especially if he can leverage it into fundraising and a solid ground game.

Bernier needs to prove he’s more than just an army of one. Scheer needs to prove the contrary. If anyone can pull it off, it’s Mad Max.

They call him that for a reason.

Alex Jones is no martyr, but beware the social media censors

My Loonie Politics column this week takes aim at the concerted effort by the social media giants to purge Alex Jones and Infowars from their platforms this past week — seemingly out of nowhere. I am not a Jones fan, but that doesn’t make me any less skeptical of Facebook’s and Twitter’s motivations.

You need to be a Loonie Politics subscriber to read the full column. I would encourage you to pick up an annual subscription, only $40 if you use the promo code “Lawton.”

Meanwhile, an excerpt:

When companies decide to handpick certain candidates for deletion, they’re setting a standard they will struggle to live up to. Alex Jones’ suspension appears to have been authorized by CEO Jack Dorsey.

In an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt, Dorsey called the suspension a “timeout.”

“Any suspension, whether it be a permanent or a temporary one, makes someone think about their actions and behaviors,” he said.

It’s a rather paternalistic and creepy comment from the head of what was launched as a channel for open communication, as though Twitter endeavours to socially engineer, rather than facilitate, dialogue.

I doubt making Alex Jones sit in the corner on a timeout will change much of his content. I’d have an easier time letting companies make these determinations — and letting their users decide whether to keep supporting them — if governments weren’t injecting themselves into these discussions.

Trudeau’s contrived diversity is not real diversity

Just how much diversity is too much?

Conservative member of parliament Maxime Bernier is being chided by the left over a Twitter rant about what he calls Prime Minister’s Justin Trudeau’s “cult of diversity.”

The tweets, published in both official languages of course, take aim at Trudeau’s oft-repeated claim that “diversity is our strength.”

“But why should we promote ever more diversity?”, Bernier asks in one tweet. “If anything and everything is Canadian, does being Canadian mean something? Shouldn’t we emphasize our cultural traditions, what we have built and have in common, what makes us different from other cultures and societies?”

It wasn’t long before the Twittersphere leapt to accusations of racism. Former Liberal leader Bob Rae didn’t use the R-word himself, but compared Bernier’s comments to the racist scorn directed to Irish, Jewish, Italian, Chinese and Sikh newcomers in generations past.

“None of them were welcomed,” Rae said. “All were accused of not ‘fitting in.’”

Bernier wasn’t taking aim at the people who make Canada diverse, but rather the contrived diversity that Trudeau has championed in pursuit of the fantasy that Canada is a “post-national” country.

Trudeau’s view is that diversity is its own end. What makes Canada truly exceptional is that diversity has been a byproduct of our actual goals. It’s come about organically, by people from around the world flocking here because of, not in spite of, our homegrown identity.

Our commitment to religious freedom makes Canada a welcoming place for those of all belief systems. Our pursuit of individual liberty compels people from dismally unfree nations to make a home here. Our economic prosperity gives people hope Canada can be their future.

These values invite diversity without manufacturing it. Trudeau would rather offer a platitude and do a bhangra dance than accept this reality of where our diversity originates.

Putting diversity above liberty, opportunity and prosperity as national goals makes it a weakness, not a strength.

Immigrants understand this far better than white progressives do. When I was a candidate for office, it was mostly almost exclusively Canadians who raised concerns about the lack of cohesion among certain ethnic groups, and the disrespect they saw for Canadian values from certain pockets of immigrants.

It’s not unreasonable, nor is it racist, to acknowledge some areas in which there is no room for a diverse array of perspectives and views.

We would never accept diversity of thought surrounding women’s equality, gay rights, or barbaric practices like female genital mutilation. Nor should we.

When the government required organizations receiving Canada Summer Jobs funding to be pro-choice, Trudeau was, in effect, establishing an immovable Canadian value.

I happen to disagree with idea that being pro-choice is an inherent Canadian value, but Trudeau believes it is, which demonstrates how at odds his government is with ideological diversity.

I’m not arguing government should mandate specific values. Quite the contrary. By promoting a diversity-first approach to government, the federal Liberals are imposing their own ideological value, at the expense of what Canada is actually about.

There are moral standards about community, liberty and tolerance that lifelong and new Canadians have organized around for years, without the government’s hand.

When Brian Mulroney’s government passed the Canadian Multiculturalism Act in 1988, 17 years after Pierre Trudeau declared Canada a multicultural country, we had a mandate to make the country’s “social, cultural, economic and political institutions” “inclusive of Canada’s multicultural character.”

There wasn’t a detailed roadmap for now this would happen, just a proclamation of the “recognition and appreciation of the diverse cultures of Canadian society.”

This has given license to all lawmakers to distort what multiculturalism actually means in Canada.

Ontario created the Ministry of Citizenship and Culture with a mandate to “stress the full participation of all Ontarians as equal members of the community, encouraging the sharing of cultural heritage while affirming those elements held in common by all residents.”

That should be what multiculturalism is all about. An appreciation for the wide array of backgrounds of those in Canada, without every losing sight of Canadian society’s core tenets.

Instead, the progressive culture won’t even recognize any such tenets exist.

Without them, diversity erodes national identity. With them, diversity enhances it.

For the sake of all Canadians present and future, Canada must never lose sight of the values that make it so desirable to newcomers in the first place.

Doing this will be our real strength.

Compelled speech is the new censorship

A few weeks back I was at a forum in Toronto dedicated to unmasking the perils of compelled speech. Specifically, the event looked at how Bill C-16, a piece of Canadian legislation adding gender identity to the Canadian Human Rights Act and Criminal Code, forces specific speech with regard to gender pronouns.

It was the law that catapulted Prof. Jordan Peterson to infamy. Though his crusade against C-16 didn’t stop the bill from passing, it did galvanize Canadians to understand the perils of state intervention on matters of so-called social justice.

Before the forum, I sat down with National Post columnist Barbara Kay to discuss the insidious nature of compelled speech, and why transgender politics have become so central to the broader discussions of free speech and censorship.

Canada’s human rights industry and the hierarchy of victims

Canada’s human rights commissions and tribunals have embraced identity politics to forge a grievance industry. This industry has now reached its inevitable standoff.

Two identity groups—each one protected by the government’s human rights code—see their purported rights as at odds with the other’s. Standing between them is the province of Ontario’s human rights regime.

A Toronto woman, Kristi Hanna, has filed a Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario complaint against a shelter for women struggling with addiction, after she was forced to share a room with a transgender woman.

Hanna, a sexual abuse survivor who describes herself as an “active ally in the LGBTQ community,” asked the Human Rights Legal Support Centre for help. She explained that she was forced to room with, in her words, a “man,” while grappling with her trauma.

The government-funded center, tasked with helping disenfranchised people navigate the human rights tribunal, defended the shelter and chided Hanna for taking issue with the situation.

Hanna had been staying at the shelter for seven months, but lasted only two nights after the transgender resident moved into the bed just five feet away from her, in July. Two nights of “constantly looking over to make sure her roommate was still in bed,” that is.

She’s been homeless ever since.

The Jean Tweed Centre, which operates the shelter, was adamant that it doesn’t discriminate against transgender residents and therefore “does not impose modifications with respect to accommodation.”

The transgender resident was presumably at the shelter for the same reason Hanna was—to get help. But only one could.

The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, an agency under “Social Justice Tribunals Ontario,” which exists to protect the disadvantaged—from women to racial minorities to those with differing gender identities—now must decide whose rights trump whose.

Should an abused woman have to shack up with someone sharing the biological sex of her abuser?

This case is the embodiment of the tense battle between two strains of feminism. But this isn’t an abstract gender studies debate—it’s real life.

The human rights industry’s worldview dictates that all must be accommodated, and that feeling unsafe means being unsafe. There is no right answer here.

If this isn’t an existential crisis-in-the-making for progressives, surely another Ontario case is.

In Windsor, Ont., the Mad Wax hair removal spa is facing a $50,000 human rights complaint for not booking a Brazilian wax appointment for a transgender woman. The spa isn’t equipped to do lower body waxes for men, the owner tried to explain. More pressingly, the only waxologist on duty was a devout Muslim woman, whose religion forbids physical contact with men other than her husband.

The Islamic view of gender identity hasn’t quite caught up with the Ontario Human Rights Code’s.

The spa owner, who prides himself as being pro-LGBT, had to choose between his desire for an open and inclusive business for his customers, and one for his employees.

Forcing the employee to wax male genitals surely would have brought its own human rights complaint. He tried explaining this to the transgender person, to no avail.

“Women have penises and women have balls, and if your staff is not comfortable, then they can look for another job,” the prospective client told him.

I’m pretty sure that’s the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s motto, actually.

The easy solution would be to allow private businesses and agencies to set their own boundaries, much like the American Supreme Court ruled they should earlier this summer. In Canada, human rights law bars those sorts of decisions.

Radical feminism versus intersectional feminism, and Islam versus transgender. Canada’s human rights commissions, which thrive on victimhood, now must recognize a hierarchy of victims.

These are the questions society never thought would need answers, but here they are.

I’ve been a long-time critic of the way the governments in Canada have industrialized so-called human rights but there’s no schadenfreude on my part with these cases. They should give lawmakers cause to recognize how farcical these human rights commissions and tribunals have become, but I don’t expect this reckoning.

I doubt Hanna will win her case, as the Ontario Human Rights Commission has repeatedly said no business or institution can deny treatment in accordance with one’s preferred gender.

This was tested in 2014 when British blogger Avery Edison settled a human rights complaint against the Ontario government after being detained in a men’s jail, despite identifying as a woman.

Irrespective of vulnerability that led Hanna to the shelter in the first place, she’s a white woman—just a half notch beneath white men on the emerging hierarchy of marginalization.

How the religious freedom of Muslims stacks up against a transgender person’s right to get their genitals waxed, while more comedic, is sure to be a more interesting case.

A Brazilian wax wouldn’t be the average person’s hill to die on, but when the state insists no perceived injustice is too small for its intervention, this is the painful outcome—literally.