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“I am a Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to worship in my own way, free to stand for what I think right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, or free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage of freedom I pledge to uphold for myself and all mankind.” ~~ John G. Diefenbaker

PETERSON – Having Maxime Bernier in these televised debates is good for the election campaign, good for all Canadians, and good for the Conservative Party

Is Maxime Bernier the Big Bad Wolf of Canadian politics?

You’d think so, to hear Jagmeet Singh, Elizabeth May and others who don’t want Bernier on stage for the Oct. 7 and 10 national party leaders’ debates.

But not us. We can’t wait to see Bernier on stage. Bring it on.

PPC leader Maxime Bernier (Facebook image)
And we say this as a staunch pro-Conservative group, registered as a third-party advertiser with Elections Canada, doing everything we can to help Andrew Scheer become the next prime minister.

Last week, the government-appointed Leaders’ Debates Commission — a terrible idea in the first place — walked back its original decision to keep Bernier out of the debates and announced they were letting him in.

Set aside the fact that it’s almost too rich to think that a strong opponent of supply management would be shut out of these debates by a government-appointed board that controls access to the “vote market.”

Having Maxime Bernier in these televised debates is good for the election campaign, good for all Canadians, and good for the Conservative Party.

On principle, if Elections Canada has recognized the People’s Party of Canada as a national party, and if Bernier has nominated candidates that have been accepted by Elections Canada in 300 or so ridings, why should he not be on stage?

If anything, he’s more of a legitimate national party leader than Yves-Francois Blanchet, who leads a “federal” Bloc Quebecois separatist party with no pretension of forming a government and fielding no candidates outside of Quebec.

But it’s the politics and personality of Bernier that are the most intriguing reason why we’re glad to see him on stage.

Nearly half of the Conservative party members supported Bernier in his leadership bid, which was focused largely on issues of the economy, free markets and the fight against supply management. Here in Alberta, this “cowboy from Quebec” was clearly at home on the range.

But the Maxime Bernier we all saw and knew in May 2017 doesn’t seem to be the same person we see today. His charm, optimism and enthusiasm are still there in spades. But his policies have veered to the right, his populism has taken on a new and more strident tone. Even his social media postings have gone from being quirky and edgy to now being over the top rants and clumsy attacks.

That’s not the same Max we knew before.” We hear that all the time.

His messaging on the environment and immigration today sets him apart from most Conservatives, and even bring him closer to policies that he ridiculed on the leadership campaign trail. He attacked Kellie Leitch’s views on Canadian values, saying, “We don’t need this karaoke version of Donald Trump,” but today appears to be comfortable with the Trump views on immigration.

Or is he? Who knows?

He’s never been seen in a debate. He’s never had his positions tested under fire, live and in a structured format. He’s been in front of mainly friendly audiences and grassroots supporters who deeply believe in him.

Every single Conservative and every Canadian should get the chance to see him defend his policies under fire from other leaders. We’ll see how he stacks up, and we’ll see how he performs when it counts the most. And then we’ll see how many Canadians will follow him on October 21.

It’s our bet that any Conservatives who may still be looking, with some interest at the PPC, will take a step back after the national debates.

It’s one thing to start a party from scratch and build up a bona fide campaign apparatus. Bernier has done that, and he clearly deserves kudos for doing so.

But it’s quite another thing to become our next prime minister. Does he have what it takes? A national debate goes a long way toward helping most people make up their minds on that question.

Bring it on, Mr. Wolf. Show us what you’ve got. 

Rick Peterson is the founder and a director of Suits and Boots Corp., a national not-for-profit group which supports Canada’s resource sector workers and their families.


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