Spencer Fernando interviews People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier to discuss the upcoming election, the various crises facing Canada, and much more…
I recently sat down for an interview with Maxime Bernier while he was in Winnipeg, to discuss some of the biggest issues facing Canada, a possible post-election scenario, and much more.
Here’s what he had to say:
To start, I asked him what he felt made the People’s Party different than other parties:
“The most important, I think we’re doing politics differently. People appreciate that. We’re not trying to please everybody.”
He said that “if we try to please everybody, we’ll end up displeasing everybody.”
“We don’t also pander to every special interest group. For us that is not a slogan or a buzzword, that is a reality. The best example is our opposition to supply management. That for us is a big test, because what I’m saying is if the other leaders are unable to resist pressure from the cartel of supply management, like they did – the Trudeau government, the NDP, Andrew Scheer, how will they be able to resist pressure from other interest groups?”
Bernier says all People’s Party Policies are “based on four principles, individual freedom, personal responsibility, respect and fairness.”
“The policies are real, free market, small-c conservative policies.”
He also said there are “no taboo debates” in the People’s Party, and that they’re trying to speak from “conviction” as opposed to a “consensus.”
The discussion then moved to the crisis facing the oil industry, and what Bernier sees as the cause of the crisis, and what he would do to help Canada’s oil industry.
“First of all, I’ll say that the fact that we don’t have any pipelines, the fact that the industry is in a position to sell to only one client, the US, that is having a big discount, because as you know the price that we are having for our natural resources are lower than if we were able to see that to other clients.”
Bernier said we need pipelines, and the “federal government has a responsibility there.” He then mentioned that with bill “C-69, it will be worse. The process for building pipelines for other important energy projects will be very tough.”
He said “we need to get rid of that bill, it’s a bad bill.”
He joked that Elizabeth May – his seatmate in the House of Commons – also opposes Bill C-69 – “but not for the same reason,” since May wants even more regulations.
Bernier also said the tax system “is not competitive right now,” and that “we need to lower taxes for every single entrepreneur in this country.”
“Because of bad policies in Ottawa, that is not helping the oil and gas industry in Western Canada. Yes also there is global impact, but first we need to have the right policies, and I think people in Ottawa, other politicians in Ottawa, mostly the Liberals, are going in the wrong direction.”
Bernier added that it’s “awkward” how all the politicians are in “Ontario and try to help GM, but they’re not doing anything for Western Canada.”
“They don’t want also to speak about the equalization formula that is unfair and inefficient, for them it’s a subject they don’t want to speak about, but I think we must. So, they want to do everything to help workers in Ontario, but here [Western Canada], since 2014 the economy is not going very well and the government is putting in place the wrong policies.”
I then asked Bernier about the announcement by GM that they are leaving Oshawa. How did he feel, having been in the Harper government when the auto sector was bailed out, and what would he do if he was PM today? Would he be open to another auto bailout?
“No, Never,” said Bernier about another auto bailout.
“No bailout, no corporate subsidies to any business, small, medium, or large ones. And actually this is what the entrepreneurs in Canada are asking for. I looked at a survey the Canadian Federation of Independent Business did, and their members said that they prefer to have lower tax than having these huge subsidies that some businesses will have and some others won’t.”
“So no bailouts, and I think it was a mistake to do that [bailout the auto sector] and we see that today.” said Bernier.
He added, “You can’t be proud when you’re a conservative government and you’re giving money to huge corporations like that.
Bernier said that when he was industry minister – the portfolio in charge of subsidizing businesses – he tried to argue against subsidies, but that the Conservatives didn’t run on cutting subsidies and had no mandate to do it. He added that when subsidy announcements were made, “I was not there, I was very happy to ask one of my colleagues to go and do the press conference.”
He says what the government did with GM “was a big mistake.”
“The best way to help every business is to lower taxes for everybody, and we can save $5 billion a year [by ending subsidies].”
Bernier says his position on subsidies is different than the Conservatives:
“That’s the opposite of what the Conservatives want to do. Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives want to keep the regional development agencies. That’s the, in every region, in five regions in Canada, you have agencies like that that are in charge of giving subsidies to businesses. They want them to be ‘more efficient.’ They want a minister from Quebec in charge of Quebec regional development agencies, they want a minister from Ontario to be in charge of the Ontario regional agency, just to be sure to buy votes and being more efficient at buying votes. So we must abolish that, and we are the only party speaking about that.”
Staying on the topic of bailouts, the discussion turned to Bombardier, who are struggling again despite repeated bailouts.
“We must not give any subsidies to Bombardier,” said Bernier.
He said that opposing subsidies for Bombardier is actually “popular in Quebec.”
“You know when Bombardier received a big subsidy from the federal government and they used that to lay off people and put more of that money in their own pockets – bonuses and things like that, the entrepreneurs in Quebec don’t like that. When I’m saying we must abolish corporate welfare, we must understand that.”
I asked if he would ever bail them out:
“No, no no. You know, if a corporation is well managed and profitable they don’t need any money from the government. And if they are not well managed, if they are badly managed and unprofitable, why the government should give money to a corporation like that?” said Bernier.
“So, if they are not profitable, it’s because they are not able to answer the needs of their consumers. And that’s the free market, that’s the capitalism system in action. So yes, I’m against a bailout of Bombardier and any corporation.”
Bernier also explained that he opposes subsidies for any business, the big ones, the medium ones, the small ones. “And that’s because of fairness, which is one of our principles. You must be fair with everybody. And that’s why in our platform we want to have a flat tax of 10% for every single entrepreneur in this country.”
Then, I asked Bernier about how he calls the Liberals and Conservatives the “LibCon Party.” Does he really think there are no differences between them?
“Yes, I’ll give you some examples,” said Bernier:
“The Paris Accord, both of them, they want to achieve the goal of the Paris Accord. So both of them are hypocrites with the population. The Trudeau government said that ‘with the $20 a ton that we will impose with the carbon tax, that we will be able to achieve our target.’ Every expert knows that they won’t. They need at least to impose a $500 a ton carbon tax to try to be able to achieve their target. They’re saying to Canadians the Paris Accord is important, there’s very good targets in that accord, and we’ll do everything to follow that, but in the end they don’t. So, it’s kind of virtue-signalling to Canadians, and I don’t buy that.”
“But Scheer is buying that,” said Bernier. “And he said that he will have a plan to be able to achieve the Paris agreement. I’m saying that we will not do that, and we will be out of that agreement.”
He said “corporate welfare is another big difference,” adding “Scheer is like the Liberals, they like to give subsidies to businesses to buy votes.”
I then interjected, asking “But do you really think they’re exactly the same, I mean you must acknowledge there are some, you must think there are some differences.”
Bernier said, “Well, tell me,” to which I responded that Conservatives support “lower taxes overall,” and would have “no carbon tax.”
“Yes, okay, Scheer is saying ‘that I will lower your taxes,’ but how, we don’t know. We don’t know how he will do that,” said Bernier.
Bernier says he would “abolish all the boutique tax credits,” and “cut the CBC budget,” and transition them to a “model to be like PBS in the States.”
He says he would have two tax rates, “One at 15% for people earning more than $15,000, one at 25% for people earning more than $100,000, and for the poor, we’ll increase the personal exemption to $15,000.”
Foreign aid is also a difference between him and the Conservatives says Bernier.
“The Liberals and the Conservatives, they want to keep that. It’s $5 billion. Why? Why Canadian taxpayers will help to build a road in Africa, or to fight climate change in Africa? It’s a big redistribution scheme. And the Liberals and the Conservatives, they have the same policy. So yes, Canada must be there when there are humanitarian crises, or a natural disaster, we must be there, but we must not be there to build roads in Africa and help other countries with climate change.”
Bernier is the only federal leader who has called for ending foreign aid and redirecting that money towards Canadians.
I also asked Bernier if he thought Scheer was different than Harper, “because you wouldn’t say Harper was the same as Trudeau.”
In response, Bernier said “first of all, yes he is different, because he said that himself. He did an interview with Sun Media two weeks ago, and he said very clearly that ‘the Conservative Party of Canada, it’s a centrist and pragmatic party.’ So, that’s not conservative.”
He also referenced a speech in Calgary where he said the Conservatives are more like the Liberals, adding “so that’s not the Conservative Party of Stephen Harper.”
It should be noted however that Stephen Harper has clearly expressed his support for Andrew Scheer, and has been critical of Bernier.
Bernier said that immigration was another area of difference, saying that there were 250,000 people coming in yearly under Harper, and that “under Andrew Scheer they want to increase that like the Trudeau government, but we don’t know how many people they want to bring in.”
He says both the Liberals and Conservatives are asking for “more immigrants,” and the People’s Party are the only party “asking for less.”
However, it’s important to point out that the Conservatives have not expressed support for Trudeau’s immigration policies, and have not yet announced whether they support more immigration, less immigration, or the current level. While it’s fair to say that Bernier is the only federal leader clearly calling for lower immigration numbers, it’s not fair to say that Scheer has supported Trudeau’s large increases in immigration. The Conservative position on that has not yet been determined.
Would Bernier be open to a free trade deal with China, especially as many doubt whether real free trade is really possible with a country that has communist party cells within their many state-owned businesses?
Bernier explained that during his leadership campaign, he had said “we may try to have a free trade agreement with China. But at the same time also, we must also protect our national interests.”
He added, “I don’t think it’s a priority to have a free trade agreement with China.”
Bernier says there needs to be more of a focus on “changes in our country on the economic side, fiscal policies, for being sure that our businesses will be competitive and giving them the right environment to be competitive with our fiscal reforms and tax reforms first.”
I then asked Bernier about his willingness to call out Islamism, and say it’s not compatible with Canadian values, and why other politicians seem afraid to do the same thing.
He said other leaders want to be “politically correct,” are “maybe afraid of the reaction from the mainstream media.”
Bernier also brought up immigration, saying 49% of Canadians say there is too much immigration, adding “I’m not anti-immigration, I’m not for mass immigration, we just want to lower the number and have more economic immigrants.”
He said the other parties “want to promote our differences. We said we want, we believe that we must promote what unites us,” adding “the other two parties and the NDP are happy with the multiculturalism policy in Canada. What I’m saying is that we must question that, because right now with the Trudeau government it’s kind of a radical multiculturalism and I’m against that.”
I then asked Bernier a hypothetical question: What if, after the 2019 election, neither the Conservatives or Liberals won a majority and his People’s Party held the balance of power. Would he prop the up Conservatives to stop the Liberals from staying in office?
Said Bernier, “It’s a hypothetical question, and my answer in the beginning is that we will be the government, and I’m working hard for us to be the government, and if that happens [no party winning a majority] we won’t make any deals against our principles, against our convictions. And, we will support any government that will implement some of our policies, and the most important policies will be the economic policies and the immigration policies, so that would be our goal. But without any compromise, you know, if we need to have another election three months after the election because they don’t want to accept some of our policies, very important ones, then we’ll have another election.”
On the illegal border crossing crisis, what would Bernier do to stop the illegal crossings?
“First of all, I will sit with President Trump and have a discussion about the third safe country agreement, and we need to change that, and I think President Trump can understand that. That’s the first thing to do.”
Bernier said illegal immigration is “a big cost to Canadians,” and that many of those crossing illegally are not real refugees. “Our policy is to help real refugees that are waiting in dangerous countries, and now it is unfair for them because these people coming from New York, and I think your life is not in danger in New York, they are jumping the queue, and that’s unfair. So the solution is to have a discussion with President Trump on that.”
Bernier added that the process to remove people must be sped up, as “it will take three years for them to have a decision in our system, and it will be harder in three years to deport them, because maybe they will have a family, and it’s always more difficult. So what we must do, we must put the resources there for having a decision in three months, instead of three years.”
I asked Bernier about how, despite polls showing the majority of Canadians opposing higher immigration levels, the Trudeau government is ignoring that and increasing immigration. Why does Bernier think the political class is unwilling to listen to Canadians on immigration?
Said Bernier, “First of all, we must ask this question to these leaders, Scheer, and Trudeau, and the NDP.”
“The Liberals are using that to buy votes. You know, it’s pandering. They increased the level of reunification of family immigrants, to be sure to win in some ridings in Canada. And under Stephen Harper, you know, economic immigrants were about 75-70% of our new immigrants in this country, and now the economic immigrants is about 65% of all the immigrants, and they are opening the door for more reunification of family immigrants,” said Bernier.
He added that the Conservatives “are doing the same thing, they are looking at the polls, and they don’t want to have this debate, because they are looking at the polls, they are looking at some ridings, and they want to be sure to have the support of some communities.”
Bernier also said, “this country has been built by immigration,” and immigrants “want an immigration system that is fair and legal and they know that more economic immigrants will be better for immigrants because that person will be able to have a job and to integrate into our society, but also for our country.”
The reason other politicians don’t want to have that discussion comes down to “pandering” Bernier says.
We also discussed the rise of division within Canada, and how that trend can be reversed and unity within the country increased.
Bernier says it’s “because of the identity politics from the Liberals and the Conservatives. We must stop that, that’s what I said. We must celebrate our culture. We must celebrate our history. We must celebrate what unites us, not our differences.”
I asked Bernier “how would you define Canadian culture.”
He said, “People who believe in the rule of law, people who believe in the equality of men and women, people who believe the country has two official languages, that’s part of our heritage, and people, all the immigrants that built this country with us, they are part of Canadian society. What I want, I want our country to be like that 20 years from now, I don’t want us to have the challenges that some European countries are having right now, so that’s why I want to have a discussion on immigration.”
Bernier discussed another growing kind of division in Canada: Western Alienation.
“I think the independence movement in Western Canada, in Alberta, is growing a little bit, because of bad policies, because of the fact that politicians don’t want to speak about the equalization formula, because it is unfair for the West, it is also unfair for the provinces that receive the money, because we don’t give them an incentive for developing their own economy, their own natural resources, it is a welfare trap for these provinces like my home province of Quebec. So we need to have that discussion.”
Bernier added that it’s important to distinguish between Quebec politicians, and the people of Quebec. While politicians are blocking pipelines, Quebec residents want to get their oil from Western Canada, not foreign countries. Polls back that up, as there is strong support in Quebec for getting more oil from Canadian sources.
We also talked about issues like proportional representation and Trudeau’s media bailout.
Bernier says that even though people have told him proportional representation “could help you as a new party, we have a [electoral] system, that system is not perfect, but it is working, and I won’t have anything in my platform to change that.”
On the media bailout, Bernier says “it’s a shame, you know they want the media to be more dependent on the government, the media must be independent from politicians. So I’m 200% against that. It’s a bad decision. If you want to help the media, you need to have policies that will lower taxes for every business. You don’t need to give $600 million to the media. It’s bad for democracy. And I don’t think the population supports that position. Also, I don’t know what would be the reaction of the media during an election campaign. And also it is unfair, it is unfair for non-traditional media. If they’re not able to be profitable, maybe their business model is not the best one. So it’s a very bad decision, it’s the wrong decision, it’s bad for democracy, it’s bad for the taxpayers because they will have to pay that, and we must abolish that and we will when we will be in government.”
I asked Bernier if – despite the differences he has with Andrew Scheer – he could say one thing he finds positive about the Conservative Party Leader.
“He’s a nice guy,” said Bernier.
“But in politics for me, you need to be bold. If you don’t believe in something, why be in politics?” said Bernier.
Bernier said “I like Margaret Thatcher. She was tough, she had conviction. She didn’t try to make consensus with everybody. She was pushing her ideas, and she was successful. I like also Laurier. Laurier maybe – not maybe – was a Liberal, but he was a real free market guy. He believed in individual freedom and personal responsibility. So I want to be that type of politician.”
Bernier says the Conservatives “have a lot of money,” and they’re doing polling and focus groups “to know what they believe and try and find policies that will be a consensus with voter segments.”
Added Bernier, “what I can say positively about Andrew, he’s a good guy, but I think he’s not the right guy at the right time.”
When it comes to Canada’s severely underfunded military, would Bernier favour increased military spending?
“Yes, but it is not in our platform right now, it was not in my platform for the leadership campaign, and we will have something about that. And yes, we will have a commitment in a People’s Party first budget, to increase our spending for our defence and our military. And we will have a goal to achieve the 2% of our GDP. But it won’t be in our first year, it won’t be in our second year, but we need to have that goal in our budget and we will have that.”
Bernier says he would be able to pay for it with other reforms “to have a smaller government and not interfere in provincial jurisdiction,” including “abolishing the CRTC.”
It’s part of respecting the constitution and respecting provincial jurisdictions. Bernier says the infrastructure fund, and new Trudeau government infrastructure bank should be abolished, saying provincial infrastructure “must be paid by provincial governments. We will abolish that and lower taxes for Canadians and provinces will be able to tax their people for their own projects.”
I also asked Bernier how he would balance the People’s Party being true to his values and beliefs, while being open to new members with different viewpoints who may disagree on certain issues.
Bernier says the platform he ran on in the Conservative Party leadership race was based on speeches he had given over the past 12 years, and “that’s why I wanted to be in politics, to fight for smaller government in Ottawa, limited government, a government that will respect the constitution, so it was easy for us to have a coherent platform during the leadership campaign of the Conservative Party of Canada.”
He says “that platform was very popular with the members of the Conservative Party of Canada, we had 49% of the vote. As you know Andrew Scheer didn’t want to take any of our reforms, because it was too bold and he preferred to try to please everybody. So that being said, we created the People’s Party of Canada based on that platform.”
That platform is what the People’s Party of Canada will run on in the upcoming election says Bernier. After the election, Bernier says they will have debates at a convention, where members can bring up policies. He says their focus now is to build up riding associations across the country, and says they will have candidates in every riding “before the end of May.”
What would Bernier do to help Canadian Veterans, many of whom feel they have been failed by both parties in the past?
He says they are currently in consultations on that, and “I will have something on that in the People’s Party of Canada platform.”
“We need to do more consultation about it and look at the challenges that they are having, but we must be open to their requests, because at the end of the day these people put their lives in danger to defend our values.”
Finally, I asked Bernier why he thinks Canadian should vote for the People’s Party of Canada:
“I hope that Canadians will vote for what they believe in, will vote for their values, will vote for what is the best for this country,” said Bernier. “And if people are doing that, we’ll be able to be the alternative. You know, people are telling me ‘Maxime, you are splitting the vote,’ my answer to that is based on fact: Since Andrew Scheer is the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, since May 2017, he was and he is always behind Justin Trudeau in the polls. So, when I was with him, he was not winning, and I’m not with him, and he’s not winning.”
Bernier says people “won’t have real reforms with Andrew Scheer, because like he said he’s a centrist party, so the real small-c conservatives must come with us. I’m telling them that Scheer is not winning right now and he was not winning when I was with him.”
He says it’s about voting for “our convictions,” and that he’s “doing as a politician what I believe is right for this country.”
His message to Canadians, “vote for what you believe in.”