The Libertarian Case for Bernier
Libertarian discussion groups on Facebook are filled with vitriol, and that’s putting it lightly. Our reputation for infighting precedes us, but I believe that the same thing could be said about ideology-based communities; if the Marxist meme pages I following on social media are any indication, we’re not alone in bickering about doctrinal purity and the criteria for evaluating political actors and their policies.
When Maxime Bernier announced he was running for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC), many underlined his leadership bid as proof of existence of a “libertarian” wing within the conservative party. That, of course, was enough to spark spirited debate on the aforementioned Facebook discussion groups. How can he be a libertarian if he voted for [insert flagrant example of government over-reach instigated by the CPC here]!? It’s a question that’s definitely worth asking, since libertarians put so much emphasis on moral evaluation of government action, but I don’t think it’s the proper question to ask. The correct one is as following: can Bernier contribute to the libertarian movement writ large? My answer to this is I believe he can.
Full disclosure: I’m a current member of the Libertarian Party of Canada (LPoC) and I have run for them in the riding of Trois-Rivières in Quebec in last October’s election, and if given the chance, I will run again. I’m also a self-identifying minarchist; haters, sue me. Despite this, I think that Bernier can help us, if not the party, then at least the movement. Bernier is a camera-friendly guy running for a party which can attract said cameras, and he talks the libertarian talk: he’s outspokenly for limited, unobtrusive government, free markets and individual freedoms; heck, I even heard him quote Bastiat at an event recently. In terms of brand recognition, this is what we want.
Literature on political parties classify the latter in several categories, namely office-seeking, vote-seeking and policy-seeking parties. For all intents and purposes, in our institutional arrangement, office-seeking and vote-seeking can more or less be lumped in together. Wide-spread appeal is what those parties attempt to gain in order to capture the most popular votes and / or offices, and resort to what they can to reach that objective. Many times, this can mean throwing moral considerations and founding principals out of the window when the situation requires it; this is how you get such erratic policy choices during electoral campaigns, with “fiscal conservatives” being in favor of meddling in free market operations and a hard leftist party promising balanced budgets in it’s first mandate. Old parties are experts at this kind of machiavelic road to power, and while they are loathed for it, they have several hundred years worth of seat time in parliament to show for the efficiency of this tactic.
We libertarians are different, or at least aught to be different. We are policy-seekers, in that our policy objective is to reduce government (we’ll settle on this minimalistic platform to avoid bickering). While the power-hungry office seekers from the other party have a stack in discrediting their rivals for the sake of keeping their seats, we have now such incentive; our drive is not to put our asses in seats, but rather affect change in a way that accomplishes our policy goals. Getting into parliament is obviously one way towards this, but we shouldn’t be camped on this option, hence my advocacy for getting libertarian-minded Bernier at the head of the bigger right-wing party.
Another option to make gains is to make our ideas known. If you’ve heard LPoC leader Tim Moen give a public talk just once, you’re probably familiar with his keenness of critical mass theory, in which the winning over of a part of the population on certain ideas sets off a chain reaction which propulses those ideas into the mainstream. It’s a nice theory, not just because of it’s suggestion that we can get libertarianism into the mainstream, but also because it implies that we have to do it the “proper” way: winning hearts and minds in sufficient numbers, and not debasing ourselves to adopting whatever the electorate approves of that day to then stuff it down the throats of the public with professional spinsters.
Spinsters aside however, we still need to get the message out there, and this is exactly what Bernier can do for use. His uttering of libertarianism can only do good. If he’s wrong in his interpretation of it, we’ll be there to set him straight; if he’s right, the party can still ride on the idea that we are the only ones that can claim to have clean hands. Either way, people will be googling “libertarianism in canada”, and last time I checked, the LPoC is the first result of that search. Maybe the keyboard warriors will even unite under the threat of this statist usurper of our ideas; wishful thinking.
Best case scenario, Bernier wins the CPC leadership, gets elected after a disastrous run by Trudeau’s liberals, and actually implements change. Ancap purists, I’m not talking about totally abolishing government within the first 100 days. I’ll applaud any measure to limit government intrusion, heck, I’d gladly take mesures which decentralize power to the provinces, because it’s a step in the right direct. Worst case scenario, he gives the libertarian brand more recognition, which would be welcome in a country where “libertarian” is too often mistaken or misheard as “libertine”.
I’m banking on the fact that Bernier is and always has been a libertarian, despite the fact that he has had to tow the CPC party line for a while to get to where he is. That’s the nature of the beast when it comes to large parties. I can’t be certain of my assessment, because I don’t know the guy personally. But that won’t keep me from getting a membership with the CPC to vote for him, and I think if you’re liberty minded, you should too.
Maybe in the next elections Canada will be feeling the Bern-ier. ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
*The views are my own and obviously not those of the party. In any case, please do check out the Libertarian Party and considering contributing.