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Maxime Bernier tweets opposing ‘more diversity' put Andrew Scheer in a sticky political conundrum

Where does Andrew Scheer draw the line when Maxime Bernier talks about the need to draw the line on diversity? So far, the Conservative Leader is leaving it fuzzy.

But, he’s got a Mad Max problem.

Mr. Scheer’s main rival for the leadership in 2017 took to Twitter to opine that “more diversity” will bring ghettoization, break the country into little tribes and “destroy what has made us such a great country.”

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It’s problem enough that an MP tweeted a vapid multi-part shriek that warns outsiders will tear apart the fabric of our country, and old sop that – notwithstanding Mr. Bernier’s dimwitted disclaimer that he celebrates diversity but is against more diversity – has been used for “influxes” of Irish, Italians and so on since before Confederation.

But for Mr. Scheer, it’s a particularly sticky political conundrum. The rival he bested by a hair is stirring up the kind of xenophobic image the Conservatives have been working to dispel, after the “tip lines” of the 2015 election and Kellie Leitch’s leadership campaign.

Conservative immigration critic Michelle Rempel has spent the past year trying to attack the Liberals about border crossers without opening the party to accusations it is anti-immigrant.

She followed Mr. Bernier’s tweetstorm with her own 13-parter that began by taking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to task for using “diversity” as an empty buzzword, then turned, without naming names, to paddling Mr. Bernier. “I am so bone weary of watching both sides of this debate be watered down into politically correct, purile, [sic] or flat out wrong arguments just for political expediency’s sake. All of you who engage in this are cowards,” she tweeted.

“Be part of the solution and not the photo op.”

Erin O’Toole, the Conservative foreign affairs critic, chimed in with eight tweets insisting Conservatives believe in diversity, and that blaming the country’s problems on it “is simplistic & shows a disconnect with our past and present.”

By now, Mr. Scheer might be feeling he’s got a headache, 10 days before a party convention in Halifax. Its name is Max.

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The Conservative Leader doesn’t have to yank an MP to heel every time he disagrees with the party line. There’s usually too much thought “discipline” in Canadian politics.

Mr. Bernier should be able to say that he is against supply management.

But he also likes attention, a lot, and to be seen as a daring and fearless speaker. He hasn’t stopped fundraising. He’s trying to make provocative points to win support. When the high-profile Mr. Bernier does that, it’s not just a “bozo eruption.” It muddles the party identity.

In this case, he chose to say something he knew would rile up questions about the party’s acceptance of diversity and immigrants. Mr. Scheer and his senior MPs don’t want that.

There are Conservative supporters who will call Mr. Bernier fearless, and agree with his vague where-do-we-draw-the-line rhetoric – and that will just make life worse for Mr. Scheer.

Mr. Scheer seems unsure what to do about it. His spokesman, Brock Harrison, issued a wishy-washy statement about how Conservatives “celebrate the contributions made to Canada from people from diverse backgrounds …” The Conservative Leader is fumbling to find words.

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Mr. Bernier put him in that position. With some particularly empty politicking.

What precisely was Mr. Bernier’s target? He attacked Mr. Trudeau’s government for “extreme multiculturalism” but never said what that was. Is it immigration? (Which Mr. Trudeau’s government has raised, but not to the rates seen under former Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney.) He doesn’t explain when diversity that has been good becomes a danger – which group makes Canada too diverse.

His assertion that “having people live among us who reject basic Western values such as freedom, equality, tolerance and openness doesn’t make us strong” is an old saw too, although it used to fear the demise of Anglo-Saxon values. Sadly, Mr. Bernier no longer believes in the power of values such as freedom and equality to influence newcomers, as they have over Canadian history.

What does Mr. Scheer think? He’s going to have to talk about it now, because Max has given him a problem.

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