RED DEER, ALTA. – Maxim Bernier warned on Saturday that Alberta should not follow Quebec's example of trying to use secession as a threat to wrest more power and money from the federal government. The strategy, he argues, has only led to a larger faction and misfortune in his native province of Quebec.
In a speech held in Red Deer, Alta. at the Freedom Conversation conference to face the challenge of Alberta separatism, the leader of the People's Party of Canada and a former Conservative leadership candidate told the Albertans their first choice should always be "to fix Canada".
"You will probably find yourself in a very negative political dynamic. One is based on unsuccessful attempts to blackmail Ottawa, internal divisions and resentment against the rest of the country, "Bernie said. "Just like in Quebec."
The PPC leader – who lost his seat in parliament in the October federal election – delivered a lunch address on Confederate problems and what to do about them. The problem, he believes, is one of distorted federalism caused by the growing government.
"It creates tension and even more division," Bernie said.
Saturday's speech was in return for Bernie, who broke away from the Conservatives last year, given the low rule of law and libertarian identity, the same ideals he said he thought the Tories had abandoned.
You will probably find yourself in a very negative political dynamic. One is based on unsuccessful attempts to blackmail Ottawa, internal divisions and resentment against the rest of the country
Absent from Bernie's speech on Saturday were statements of his more controversial positions during the election, where he argued that Canada should not bother with climate, that it should not accept so many immigrants, and should build a popular security fence on one popular illegal border crossing.
Bernie, a former Conservative cabinet minister, stepped down a year after losing that party's Andrew Fehr in 2017. Bernie formed his party in September 2018, mocking a populist vision and tapping into hostility to immigration while maintaining part of his personal trademark policy as he sought to dismantle the agricultural supply management system. Bernier's new party, just over a year old, did not win a single seat in the October elections and received less than two per cent of the national vote.
On Saturday, Bernier said the rise of separatism as a phenomenon, in both Quebec and the West, could be directly linked to the expansion of the federal government, which intervened in provincial affairs and favored some regions over others.
He was speaking at the same Red Deer hotel where, a week ago, Alberta Prime Minister Jason Kenney announced his plan to seek a better deal for Alberta in the Confederation. Organizers estimated that nearly 400 people were ready for Bernier's speech.
Bernie argues that the western divide, at least as a tactic to exploit more Ottawa gains, is a "weak threat".
"And if separatism has failed to achieve much that is useful in Quebec despite the more credible threat, imagine what it will achieve here," he said.
Instead, what Alberta and other provinces need is more provincial autonomy – a less centralized federation with a smaller national government. He said that, in retrospect, the nationalists' approach to Quebec proved to be a mistake.
"Quebecers who want greater autonomy for Quebec should have allied themselves with (other provinces), rather than making unrealistic demands on Ottawa and the rest of the country," Bernie said.
In doing so, Bernie argues, there can be no other Western protest party, such as the old Reform Party, which failed to make a referral to Quebec voters and ultimately ended up undercut by one conservative ethnic party, under Stephen Harper. .
"What we need to solve our problems of unity and improve our federation is a better manager of a smaller, much less assertive and interventionist government," Bernie said.
At that point, he seized the opportunity to shoot at Andrew Heer, the Conservative leader, as he failed to adhere to more conservative principles.
"Faer's only program was to buy votes," he said.
And, he said, conservatives from the minority states must reject calls after the recent election defeat to be even less conservative, as if to imitate liberals. If they do, Bernie warned, "you're screwed."
"We must stop compromising. We must continue to defend our ideas. Even if it means we're not mainstream enough in today's political culture to form a government. "