Et tu, Bernier?


In the back-alleys of Montreal’s Mile End district, during the summer, don’t bother getting excited when you hear the boxtruck drive around and ring its melodic bells.

It’s not the ice cream man.  It’s the knife-sharpening truck.

Right now, in the halls of Parliament, the knife-sharpening truck is going around.

Every couple of days, one of the national papers dredges out a new theory — the Prime Minister will resign, the Prime Minister will call a fresh election, the Prime Minister will hold the Queen hostage, etc.

So you have to imagine that there are some Conservative insiders who are grinding axes and sharpening knives.  And as the sound of those knives get progressively louder, it’s only a matter of time before an enterprising politician picks one up.  That is, unless Harper can get this business under wraps.

He may have tried to silence dissent by floating the idea of calling a snap election, to force loyalty and keep his men on their toes.  But that threat will wear off.

One of the most readily cast-off leadership names touted about is Maxime Bernier.  Yes, the man with the biker girlfriend who can’t keep his documents in his briefcase.  But if you’re going to try and pick out a minister who will be the first to break ranks, it will be him.

He’s been the Minister of State for Tourism and Small Business since 2011, and has recently pinned Agriculture onto that job title.  The fact that he’s actually crawled up from the well he was thrown in after his 2008 cock-up is pretty impressive, but more telling still is that he is able to take potshots at his own government without retribution.

The first big one was going after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty for calling Manulife Financial and asking them to discount their mortgage rates.  Bernier, the hot-headed iconoclast, is the model of financial liberalism.

Next was a huge shot across the bow — speaking to reporters in the foyer of the Conservative Convention in Calgary, Bernier told reporters that he was in favour of holding a referendum on abolishing the Senate, despite the fact that his party, at least on paper, still supports reform.

In recent weeks, Bernier’s face has been popping up in the Quebec media more and more.  He’s become the francophone spokesperson for selling the Canadian European Free Trade Agreement in Quebec, and tempering all the accusations that it will be bad for cheese producers.

Spinning the government’s controversial policies in Quebec isn’t easy, but Bernier might just do it.  And if he can distance himself from the more unpopular moves — say, rail safety regulations that were called into question after Lac Megantic — he might just be set up as the prime Quebecois candidate if a leadership election were to drop into his lap.

You can imagine that if the King of the Senate, Harper, doesn’t find a way to deflect and diffuse some of this criticism, someone will be the first to move.  And a bombast like Bernier might be the minister to move first.

But, if we’re going to delve into the history books, the first assassin to lunge at Caesar didn’t fare so well.  Servilius Casca betrayed the President of the Senate, and never had much to show for it.

Et tu, Bernier?


Other articles by Justin Ling

The Lament of the Floor-Crosser

Liberal Flipcounters of a Third Kind

Boldly going where many political fundraisers have gone before

The Taming of the Prime Minister

Harper’s Lincoln Continental

Follow Justin Ling on twitter: @Justin_Ling


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