Maxime Bernier gave a rather remarkable speech this weekend at the Manning Institute's annual shindig. While not quite as headline grabbing as his ode to Sarah Palin and climate change from a few weeks ago, the speech is no less interesting. Consider:
1. In a speech titled "how to sell conservatism in Quebec," Bernier pays homage to, in his view, the glorious conservative past of pre-quiet revolution Quebec. It's an interesting take on Quebec history if nothing else.
2. Bernier provides strong proof that Quebec isn't really the left-wing paradise that certain intellectuals paint it as. "For them, all Quebeckers are left-wingers and love big government. And it is hopeless to expect anything to come out of it. If that were true, I guess I would not be here today. I won my riding with the largest majority of any candidate in Quebec in the last two elections. And everyone knows I'm a conservative!" This line of argument wouldn't exactly get you an A+ on your CEGEP logic exam (it is the logical equivalent of Lisa Simpson's magic rock that repels tigers) but I have no doubt it played well to the Manning crowd.
3. The words "Stephen Harper" appear nowhere in the speech. There is no chance the Prime Minister's name was edited out as Bernier tried to tighten his words.
4. Moreover, it is hard to read Bernier's prescription for how to sell conservatism in Quebec and not see the subtext "Harper hasn't or can't do any of this, but I can or will." The speech jumps from Pierre Trudeau to Preston Manning (with a frank argument of why Manning never got any traction in la belle province) to the future. As for the present - you know, the government he is a caucus member of - and an explanation of why Harper conservatism has not been sold successfully in Quebec? It will have to wait for another speech. Or a clarification that Bernier is forced to issue by the PMO on why the speech is really a tribute to the Harper government and I just missed it.
5. Say what you want about Bernier, the guy is putting forward ideas about the big issues facing Canada - economic competitiveness, climate change (sort of given his denial of the problem), Quebec's role in the federation. I may not agree with any of his prescriptions but he's putting them out there. This differentiates himself both from the current leader of the Conservative Party and his potential leadership rivals.
The thing is, the Conservative Party has a leader. I hear rumours he's a tiny bit controlling. While Rahim and Helena provided a bit of a diversion last week, they are both ultimately irrelevant to Stephen Harper's political fate. Maxime Bernier running what is quickly becoming a full-on, public leadership challenge to Stephen Harper is something else entirely.