OPINION: Bernier's new party would strengthen Trudeau's hold on B.C.

It is not yet clear whether the new political party promised by disaffected ex-Conservative MP Maxime Bernier will actually materialize, but if it does, it may very well strengthen Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s hold on this province.

Bernier is promising to field candidates in every riding in the country, so presumably he aims to install or have nominated someone in each of B.C.’s 42 ridings by the time of the next federal election.

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Of course, his grand plans may ultimately go up in smoke, a scenario the federal Conservative Party is clearly hoping happens. That is because Bernier is a threat to that party more than any other, although he may draw some support from federal Liberals and maybe even a few New Democrats.

We still have not such much evidence that Bernier is actually putting some coherent structure together in time of the next election. Right now, he’s mostly active on Twitter.

However, he seems to have some Conservatives nervous, which is understandable, given it is the Conservatives he is targeting. A look at B.C.’s federal electoral map and the results of the 2015 election shows just why Trudeau and his federal Liberals will be cheering for Bernier to indeed achieve his goals of fielding coast-to-coast candidates.

In the last election, the Conservatives finished second in 12 of the 17 B.C. ridings won by the Liberals. Also, the Liberals finished a close second to the Conservatives in several ridings.

Since any support for a Bernier-led party would primarily come from the Conservatives, his candidates will likely make existing Liberal-held seats even safer for that party, and perhaps threaten a couple of Conservative-held of falling into the Liberals’ hands.

Some of those seats won by the Liberals (Delta, Mission-Matsqui-Fraser Canyon, Cloverdale-Langley City for example) were a big of a surprise, given the Conservatives’ long history of support in those areas. Any weakening of the Conservative vote because of a Bernier split would be music to the Liberals’ ears, and entrench those ridings in that party’s hands for potentially a long time.

So far, when it comes to specific issues, Bernier is confining himself to multiculturalism, immigration and supply management of some industries, notably dairy farming. The first two may have some resonance in parts of B.C., but it may also prove to be toxic ones in others.

Bernier will presumably offer a fairly right-wing platform, and his emphasis on divisive issues will align him with some of the old Reform Party supporters, of which there are many in B.C.. But some ridings will resist his approach.

For example, the riding of Richmond Centre is heavily populated by the Chinese-Canadian community, which may take a dim view of Bernier’s demand that the country reduce immigration levels and stop spending much time worrying about cultural diversity.

The Conservatives’ Alice Wong won that riding by less than 1,200 votes in 2015, narrowly besting her Liberal opponent by less than three percentage points.

While it’s quite likely the “Trudeau wave” that swept much of the country last time won’t occur in the next campaign, I can’t help notice that he still gets mobbed by fans whenever he comes to B.C. (most recently the Vancouver Pride parade and his visit to Penticton).

The Kinder Morgan protesters who dog Trudeau when he visits B.C. leave a false impression that he is unpopular and under siege. He’s not, and when contrasted with Conservative leader Andrew Scheer and NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, he looks even better.

Scheer has a somewhat bland and uncharismatic style, which is safe but perhaps not good enough to grow his party’s support. Singh is largely unknown and seems to be unable to connect with the electorate.

While Singh has to be considered the slight favorite to win the Burnaby South byelection whenever it is held, it’s hard to see much success for him or his party other than that.

Given his weak counterparts, Trudeau will likely not need that much help that could derive from Bernier splitting his chief opponent’s vote, but he’ll take it, especially when it could occur in a province so vital to his political interests.

Keith Baldrey is chief political correspondent for Global BC.




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