On May 27, 2017, the Conservative Party of Canada will be electing a new leader.
This leadership race will ultimately determine who will lead the Conservative Party of Canada (Conservative Party) in the 2019 federal election.
As Canadian Muslims, it is important that we exercise our civic duty to help choose the next leader of the Conservative Party, who could be the next Prime Minister of Canada.
How to vote?
In order to vote for the next leader of the Conservative Party, you must hold active membership to the Conservative Party before March 28, 2017.
Over the past few weeks, The Canadian-Muslim Vote has been sitting down with a few of the 14 candidates contesting for the leadership of the Conservative Party.
We have been profiling these candidates so that you (our readers) can make an informed voting decision on May 27, 2017.
Maxime Bernier (Conservative)
Member of Parliament for Beauce (Quebec)
Offices and Roles as a Parliamentarian
- Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism, and Agriculture) (2013-2015)
- Minister of State (Small Business and Tourism) (2011-2013)
- Minister of Foreign Affairs (2007-2008)
- Minister of Industry (2006-2007)
1. Tell us a bit about your background and why you decided to run for the nomination to be the next leader of the conservative party and perhaps one day Prime Minister of Canada?
First of all, my background - I worked for 15 years in Montreal in the financial sector. I was the VP of financial institutions at Standard Life Insurance Company and I worked at the Autorité des marchés financiers (a capital markets regulator in Quebec). I studied business in Montreal and I did a law degree in Ottawa. I didn’t study common law, just studied civil law in Quebec. I worked in the private sector as a lawyer for two years, and thereafter went into the financial industry. In terms of political experience I have served as Minister of Industry, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of Small Business and Tourism.
Why am I running for the leadership of this party? Because I think we need to have a government in Ottawa that will be smaller, that will respect the Constitution and that won’t interfere in provincial jurisdiction. Our campaign is based on four principles: individual freedom, personal responsibility, fairness and respect. Our platform is in line with these principles. I want to have a small government in Ottawa, a government that will respect people, respect the Constitution. If we have a smaller government, we will have more freedom. If we have more freedom, we will have more prosperity. I don’t [agree with] the Liberal government’s approach that when we face a challenge in our society, we need a new regulation, new legislation or new tax. For me, the Liberal approach is one that elevates government and doesn’t elevate the citizen.
When you’re a real Conservative, you have faith in people, you have faith that they have the ability, the dignity, and the right to make their own decisions and determine their own destiny. So, that’s why I’m running, and I like what I’m doing!
2. Why do you feel you’re qualified to lead the conservative party of Canada? Why should I vote for you over the other candidates seeking the nomination?
I think I’m the best candidate because I have a lot of experience as a politician and in the private sector. Second, I have a platform that will bring bold reforms in Ottawa, and real changes. I think the members of our party are ready for that. I’m the only candidate who wants to abolish supply management. It’s a cartel in Canada where the dairy, the poultry and the egg producers [are] price fixing. I don’t think it’s a free market. The other candidates don’t want to have a free market for the dairy, poultry and egg producers, they want Canadians to continue to pay $2.6 billion to keep that system. The cost to a Canadian family is around $500 a year. We are paying twice the price for these products if you compare this with other countries. They’re able to impose these artificial prices on their products because we – the federal government – are imposing a tariff at the borders of 300% on these products. I’m the only one who’s ready to work for Canadian consumers and not for special interest groups. I don’t have the support of the farmers in Quebec, as you know. It can hurt a little bit, because they are very organized and they want to keep that privilege. So their goal is to vote for a candidate that will ensure they’ll be able to keep that privilege.
My strategy for my campaign is very open. We don’t want to work for special interest groups, [whether] it be corporate welfare, Bombardier, or GM. Our platform is based on fairness.
The other big difference is corporate welfare. I’m the only one who wants to abolish corporate welfare. What is corporate welfare? It’s all the grants and subsidies the federal government is giving to business. There is about $5-8 billion a year that the federal government is giving to big business, small business and medium business. For example, like the grant to Bombardier - under my government, they won’t receive that.
I plan to lower the corporate income tax rate from 15% to 10%, and we will also abolish the capital gains tax in Canada. This tax was imposed by the Trudeau government in 1969. Before that we didn’t have this kind of tax in Canada. In Europe, in Belgium, they don’t have any capital gains tax. So, that would be pro-investment and stimulate the economy.
My campaign would be based on the economy, because I think it’s a priority for Canadians. Trudeau said he would have a small deficit at the beginning of the campaign, after that it became a $30 billion deficit – it is a huge deficit in order to stimulate the economy. However, we don’t see any results, the growth is the same. There was 1.3% economic growth in this country when he started as a Prime Minister, and a year later it was 1.4% economic growth. So there has been no stimulus.
3. In the last federal election, some would argue that conservatives ran on a platform that was somewhat divisive, do you agree with this statement? Do you believe this was the right approach?
Actually it was not – we’re not in government! I don’t like to talk about the past, but we made two big mistakes. We spoke about our record – what we did as government – but people want to see the future. The other mistake was having a very extended and long campaign.
For me, the niqab debate that the Conservative Party had in the last election – was a mistake. I think we pushed that too far, and we lost. In my own riding, my riding is 99% Francophone and Catholic, at the beginning when we started with the niqab, people said ‘okay, yeah, it’s a good policy’. But at the end of the campaign, three weeks later, they said ‘why are you doing this’?
And so, it was not even a popular policy with the Francophones in my riding who are Catholics. So we were playing that too hard and I think we pushed that issue too hard. We obviously paid the price for that. The only province where we increased our members of Parliament was Quebec. In all the other provinces, we didn’t increase any – we lost a lot of members all across the country.
I want to put the issue of immigration and integration in a global context. My immigration policy will be to have more economic immigrants and less refugees. We must have more economic immigrants - right now 60% of our immigrants are economic immigrants, and I want to increase that to 65-70%. Why? Because when you come to Canada and you have a job, it’s easier for you to integrate into our society. In addition, I would want to admit refugees but 80% of refugees should be sponsored by the private sector (i.e. by a church, by a synagogue, by a temple, or by an individual). When somebody is sponsored, they are responsible. Right now, 80% of refugees are sponsored by the government. For me, when the government is responsible, nobody is responsible. When you have somebody responsible, it’s easier for the integration of refugees into our society.
4. In your view, since the Liberals were elected in 2015, what have they done wrong? What have they done right?
In terms of what they’ve done wrong, it’s all about the economy.
What they have done right….umm….there’s got to be something.... I’ll give you an example with the last budget. The last budget tabled by the Liberals was a bad budget, but we had some good news. The good news was they decided not to increase the inclusion rate in the capital gains tax. But the bad news came the day after, when the Minister of Finance did an interview and a journalist asked him ‘so, that’s very good news, that you decided not to increase the capital gains tax’, and then he said ‘oh but it’s still on the table’. So, you know, he changed that piece of good news into bad news.
What else have they done right? Communication. I think they’re communicating their platform well to Canadians. I think that was not our strength, at the end of our [Conservative] government. The way they communicate through social media with Canadians is good. I don’t like their platform, I don’t like what they’re doing, but they’re very successful at communicating with Canadians using different media.
5. What do you think of Trump administration’s current immigration policies including the travel ban imposed on 6 Muslim majority countries?
It’s internal politics and I will speak about the Trump administration when it has an impact on Canadian politics. I don’t want to interfere in provincial jurisdiction, nor in foreign affairs. He can do what he wants, he has been elected for that, and he’s responsible before his people. For me, when it’ll have an impact on Canada, we will have to react. When he says he is opposed to free trade and wants to rip up NAFTA – I would have something to say about that because it’s part of our relationship. I think on NAFTA, he’s right, we need to open that agreement for more free trade not less. That will be to the benefit of our two countries. We can put something on the table to facilitate a deal with him, for example, abolishing supply management. I know that the dairy, poultry and egg producers in the U.S. want to sell their goods here. So my deal with him would be to put that on the table for Canadian consumers, but at the same time you must open up your borders for softwood lumber or other goods. So, you know, it’s his policy and as a politician I wouldn’t do [the travel ban] in Canada but he decided to do that over there and that’s his decision and we’ll have to live with it.
6. With the recent refugee crisis in Europe and the subsequent reaction by countries around the world, the UK’s Brexit and the Trump administration’s controversial immigration policies, where do you see Canada’s role in this global context which is becoming increasingly framed by fear mongering and alienation?
With what’s happening in the U.S. and U.K., Brexit, the impact on us would be, as I’ve said before, that we must sign a free trade agreement with China and with the U.K. That’s part of my platform. The immigration policy – what’s happening in Europe – I’m looking at that. I don’t think it will have a big impact in Canada because, as you know, we’re very successful with our immigration policy.
On fear mongering and alienation, I’ll give you an example – it’s like in Quebec, we had that debate in Quebec five years ago, about, not Canadian values but the Charte des Valeurs (Quebec Charter of Values) with the PQ government. Pauline Marois decided she wanted to win against Couillard and she proposed the Charte des Valeurs. That was in the news for years in Quebec. She was leading in the polls, using the Charte des Valeurs, but how did Quebecers decide to vote? They are not racist, they voted for the Liberals. It’s the same thing with politicians who use immigration, fear mongering and alienation to get votes.
7. Nationally, hate crimes are on the rise. Statistics Canada released figures in 2016 that showed Islamophobia had doubled in a three year time frame. During that time we saw a mosque firebombed in Peterborough, and in January of this year we saw 6 innocent men murdered in their place of worship in Quebec. Do you think this Islamophobia is a problem for our country? Why did you vote against Motion M-103?
First of all, I think your question is correct. The increase in hate crimes, is a fact, it is data. It is not fake news like the guy in the U.S. is saying, it is a fact. If you also look at hate crimes against the Jewish people, it is a fact, it is still number one. I think hate crimes against Muslims is number two. But the most interesting thing is that the increase in the last couple of years of crimes against Muslims went from 5% (I don’t have the numbers) to 15% (something like that). A huge increase. The increase is a bad trend. The goal would be to fight that for every religion/faith. In terms of why I voted against motion M-103. First of all, I didn’t like the term. We didn’t have a definition, and second, I am about freedom. I told you it’s about freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and if someone wants to say something positive about religion, he has that right. If someone wants to say something negative about religion, he must have the right. We asked for some changes in the motion and the Liberal Party declined. I want to include all religions, not only Islam, and I want to have a clear definition.
8. As Prime Minister, what practical steps would you take to protect other mosques in Canada from experiencing the tragedy we felt in Quebec?
First of all, it is a shared jurisdiction. It is part of every government. Municipal, provincial, and federal government – all have a role to play. I think the police in Quebec are working on a report about what happened and will have some recommendations and we will work towards those recommendations. But you know the problem is coming from Quebec. It’s coming from my own province, so something in Quebec… I don’t know why we have a lot of French Canadians that are radicalized like that. So, we must look at that with the Quebec government and find a solution.
9. Given the multicultural fabric that makes up our country, what does diversity mean to you as a Canadian?
It’s a plus for this country and it’s positive for me. Justin Trudeau said that there are no Canadian values - he said that in a speech, but there are Canadian values. It’s all about freedom - freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and equality before the law. These are the fundamental Canadian values. Everybody comes to Canada because of these Canadian values. They want these values, and this country has been built with people coming from different faiths, different countries, different backgrounds. But at the end they are coming here because they believe in these Canadian values, fundamental Canadian values.
Kellie Leitch wants to try to change Canadian values and she wants to impose that on new Canadians. I don’t want to do that. We have a way to select our new immigrants. For 100 years, this country has been built on people who come from different faiths and different countries. So, for me, that is positive and that’s why I don’t want to change our immigration system. I must admit, that, in the beginning, when we started we had more immigrants from Europe. And now we have fewer immigrants from Europe. That is not a problem for me.
10. There are over one million Muslims in Canada today. As a result, Canadian Muslims make up a significant portion of constituencies across the GTA and Canada. By 2030, it is expected that Canadian Muslims will make up close to 7% of the country’s total population. In previous Federal elections, Muslim voter turnout was around 45%. However, the community was much more engaged in 2015 with a groundbreaking 79% voter turnout. Given the increasing level of engagement within the Canadian-Muslim community, what will you do to appeal to this growing and dynamic demographic group?
Nothing. I don’t want to please special interest groups. I won’t do anything for the Jewish people, I won’t do anything for the Catholic people.
And actually, I might add, in 1867 when this country had been built, the first census that was conducted showed that we had Muslim people in Canada. I think we had a 100,000 or something like that - I don’t remember the numbers. But the Muslim community is a part of this country. Muslims, like other communities helped build this country.
11. On a lighter note, tell us what you like to do to relax when you are not campaigning?
I enjoy running, I ran a 107 km run for charity four years ago when I was 50 years old and I am planning to do another 150 km run sometime soon. I also enjoy reading books/novels.