April 20, 2017

Without our sacred supply management, it’d be “Human sacrifice! Dogs and cats living together! Mass hysteria!”

Filed under: Business, Cancon, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

Colby Cosh saddles up old Rocinante and has a tilt at the ludicrous supply management regime in milk:

You remember how Chobani, a hipster yogurt business based in New York state, got a temporary permit to sell the product in Ontario and won over customers. You know how it tried to meet our supply-managed dairy system halfway by making plans for a factory in Kingston. You know how milk processors waged berserker war in court to prevent the permit from being renewed, and closed ranks to deny the company a supply of Canadian milk.

And, most of all, you know how the product disappeared from our shelves, how Canadians still seek it out on cross-border trips, and how slow and confused the dairy cartel was about meeting the new demand for extra-heavy yogurt. None of this is going to be too easy to explain to a four-year-old.

I hasten to add that I am not seriously playing the “Won’t someone think of the children” card so beloved of politicians, newspaper columnists, and other shameless scum. The four-year-old will get over it. She’ll grow up in a free-trade Canada in which she does not have to accept a world of consumer second-bests, simulacra, and make-dos, except possibly in the dairy section. She can have no personal memory of Seventies Canada — never know what it is like to switch from Eaton’s to The Bay just to buy slightly different versions of the same low-quality, unfashionable crap. The question I grew up with was “Why does Canada have seemingly permanent poorer living standards than the U.S.?”; now it is just “Why are the cheese sections in our grocery stores so pathetic?”

So, Mad Max to the rescue? Not if champion protectionist Steven Blaney can stop him:

… supply management froze the world of Canadian dairying at a perfect moment for Quebec, and so the system has become a sacred cow made of other, literal cows. Because economists and intellectuals know that supply management is a transfer of wealth from consumers of all classes to a few thousand affluent farmers, the beneficiaries reinvest a great deal of the profit in hapless, defensive public-relations efforts that only tend to make us loathe them more.

They have even found a political champion in Steven Blaney, the cadaverous oddball from the Eastern Townships who is in the Conservative leadership race to play milk spoiler to fellow Quebecer Maxime Bernier. Bernier wants to retire supply management by buying farmers out of their quotas with a national tax on dairy, lasting for a fixed period.

This is a generous approach to free trade in dairy: it is a buyout of unearned entitlements. Producers who want to leave the industry would do so with an enormous grubstake — the kind of which workers laid off from regular jobs can only dream. Those who hang in there would get to keep something like the present value of their annulled production quotas as they face new careers in an honest-to-God marketplace (which is what some of them very much wish to do).

March 26, 2017

The Mark Steyn Show with Maxime Bernier

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on Mar 23, 2017

In this brand new edition of The Mark Steyn Show, Mark talks to Canadian Conservative Party leadership candidate Maxime Bernier. M Bernier was the country’s Foreign Minister under Stephen Harper until his rising star somewhat spectacularly self-detonated. But, after biding his time, he returned as a hero of the libertarian right – “the Albertan from Quebec”, as he became known. Steyn and Bernier talk about what it means to be a conservative francophone in rural Quebec, the role of a medium-rank power in a turbulent world, and Canadian-US relations.

January 14, 2017

Mad Max for PM!

Conservative leadership candidate Maxime Bernier gets an unusually even-handed profile from the CBC:

Bernier’s life is a moveable banquet of rubber chicken, and shaking grimy, anonymous hands, and pretending great interest in everyone, trying all the while to turn the discussion to Maxime Bernier. And perhaps asking for some money while he’s at it.

Actually, that’s unfair. What Bernier mostly turns the discussion to is his ideas.

He’s libertarian, to the extent that it’s possible to be a libertarian and seek high office in a country that was built on protectionism and entitlement and government being the answer to everything.

He advocates the end of quotas and supply management for dairy, poultry and eggs. Oh, and maple syrup. Most Canadian politicians — let alone MPs representing rural Canada like Bernier — prefer to leave such topics undiscussed.

He wants to abolish interprovincial trade barriers. Stopping companies from growing into other Canadian jurisdictions, or stopping workers from travelling between provinces, he characterizes as “foolish,” “doubly foolish” and “ridiculous.”

Go ahead and argue with that.

Bernier wants an end to what he calls “corporate welfare,” his term for governments using tax money to pick winners, such as Bombardier and General Motors, and letting losers struggle with market forces.

If you’ve been reading the blog for a while, it’ll come as no surprise that Bernier is far and away my preferred choice for Tory leader.

December 4, 2016

Conservative leadership race – Bernier and Chong at the “grownups’ table”

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Chris Selley surveys the competition for federal Conservative leader:

Kellie Leitch has won the most headlines thus far, thanks to her store-bought populist appeal to suspicions about immigrants’ values and grievances with the political establishment. Campaign manager Nick Kouvalis is playing the media like a fiddle: at every mention of screening immigrants for “Canadian values” we squeal and writhe with high-toned outrage, incredulity and mockery. Kouvalis simply collates it, presents to the considerable majority of Canadians who think it’s a perfectly reasonable idea, and asks if they would support both the policy itself and the policy sticking in the craw of these jumped-up “elites.” The answer in many cases seems to be yes.

At the grownups’ table, however, a proper battle for the sanity and the soul of the Conservative Party of Canada has taken shape. Michael Chong reminds party supporters that a fiscally conservative party that claims to want to fight climate change should support market-based tools to get the job done — the simpler the tool (i.e., a carbon tax), the better. As leader, Chong could credibly hold a Liberal government to account for its less-than-pure commitment to carbon pricing and its inevitable failure to meet emissions targets.

Maxime Bernier reminds Conservatives that in 10 years, the party did almost nothing about Canada’s insane supply management systems. There is a constituency that believes a free market in dairy would of necessity pump our children full of bovine antibiotics, hormones and steroids. There is a much larger constituency that trusts Canada’s food safety system and would prefer cheaper groceries. If a conservative party can’t sell free markets when the upside is cheaper groceries and the downside is inconvenienced millionaire quota owners, it should close shop.

Bernier planted himself even more squarely in the Canadian policy mainstream with his recent proposal to reform the CBC as an ad-free broadcaster focused on “what only it can do” in a modern media market: he suggested more local programming, documentaries and foreign correspondents, “more programs about science, history, or religion.” He proposed a funding model like NPR and PBS, which rely heavily on private and corporate donations.

For the record, I don’t think carbon taxes are the way to go, as experience should tell us that governments rarely if ever bring in “revenue neutral” tax changes, and the carbon tax would end up being added to existing tax tools, rather than replacing them. I’m also on the record as being a fan of Mad Max for PM (although I’m not a Conservative, he’s the most libertarian mainstream politician since Laurier).

May 16, 2016

Maxime Bernier and the race to succeed Harper

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

In the Toronto Sun, David Akin looks at Bernier’s campaign to be the next federal Conservative leader:

“I want a freer and more prosperous country,” Bernier said. “And the way to do that is to have a limited government. I’m a real Conservative. I believe in freedom, responsibility, fairness and respect. That’s the four themes of my campaign. Every public policy will be based on these four themes.”

He is convinced that a campaign of ideas will win both his party’s leadership and the prime minister’s office.

But some of those ideas may be a tough sell in some regions.

No more corporate handouts for the likes of Bombardier or General Motors, for example.

And even though his riding has a huge number of dairy, egg and poultry farmers, he vows to end the high tariffs that protect them from foreign competition and force consumers to pay higher food costs.

He will offer to caucus colleagues and to the party’s grassroots a more inclusive style of leadership than Stephen Harper’s.

Riding associations should be free to pick their own candidates, Bernier said, without interference from the leader. And if MPs want to debate issues or introduce legislation that is at odds with the leader, Bernier would be OK with that.

Bernier, like Harper, has no intention, for example, of going anywhere near abortion but if any of the 10 Conservative MPs at the annual anti-abortion rally last week wanted to introduce a private members’ bill on the subject, they would be free to do so and his caucus would be allowed a free vote.

Bernier would personally focus on smaller government.

“Be a strong government, but in your own jurisdiction. When you have a smaller government, you have more freedom; when you have more more freedom, you have more prosperity,” said Bernier.

“I believe in free markets and I think we must speak about what we believe to Canadians with passion and with conviction.”

I’ve been on record as being a fan of Bernier’s since at least 2010, so I have to admit being quite partial to him winning the Tory leadership.

February 6, 2015

Baird makes for the exit

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Paul Wells on the somewhat precipitate departure of Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird:

This is the third time Stephen Harper has found himself suddenly short a foreign minister and the first time it has mattered. On May 26, 2008, Maxime Bernier resigned the portfolio after he left confidential documents at a girlfriend’s house, and the capital was briefly awash in bad puns about “leaky briefs.” In the federal election of May 2, 2011, Lawrence Cannon lost his seat to a rookie New Democrat. Now John Baird.

But Bernier was — is — a libertarian who was convinced that if governments talk to one another they will find new things to do when they shouldn’t be doing much of anything, so he was never entirely sure Canada should have a foreign minister and a little put out that it apparently had to be him. And Cannon took no joy in a job that pushed his limited interpersonal skills beyond their natural breaking point. […]

Baird, on the other hand, has been an absolute breath of fresh air. Of course he’s been a conservative (as opposed to merely a Conservative) foreign minister, so DFAIT lifers Paul Heinbecker and Jeremy Kinsman would reliably get the vapours at the mention of his name. He sold embassies and official residences. He informed DFAT-D (as the newly renamed ministry came to be called) envoys that they would have no more space in their cubicles in Ankara or Canberra than their counterparts in Ottawa were permitted. He stuck close to talking points, which could make him maddeningly terse: following him around central Europe last April, I passed a dejected reporter for the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita leaving the Canadian embassy in Warsaw. “They gave me 20 minutes for an interview,” my Polish colleague said. “When I ran out of questions, we still had eight minutes left.”

But Baird travelled constantly, met everyone who’d talk to him, kept his eyes open, and radically expanded the breadth and complexity of the Harper government’s foreign policy. When the Conservatives were elected in 2006, they acted as if Canada’s relations with the world could be reduced to the anglosphere (friendly governments in the U.S. and Australia, the palatable Tony Blair in London) plus Israel. When those governments changed, usually for the worse from Harper’s perspective, Ottawa’s instinct was usually to turtle and blame the stupid world.

May 7, 2011

Bring Mad Max back into cabinet?

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 10:13

I admit I’m rather fond of Maxime “Mad Max” Bernier, so of course I’m in favour of bringing him back into cabinet:

Mr. Harper also needs to reach out to the inner conservative that lies dormant in the hearts of most Quebecers.

How to kill these two birds with one stone? Appoint Maxime Bernier as President of the Treasury Board.

The position is open, since incumbent Stockwell Day decided not to run in the May 2 election.

Maxime Bernier hails from Beauce, a fortress of entrepreneurship in the heart of the province. He is an efficient communicator who sticks to the message. He emphasizes fiscal conservatism and individual liberties, a stance that resonates with a core of enthusiastic supporters in the province. He preaches the entrepreneurial values that lie at the very centre of Quebec’s conservative past, but are too seldom celebrated nowadays.

February 6, 2011

“Mad Max” throws away the Quebec vote

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 12:26

At least, that’s the way most in the media are likely to interpret his position on Bill 101:

Some people say I am not a “real Quebecer” and are accusing me of “attacking Quebec” simply because I want to be more popular in the rest of Canada. They seem unable to conceive that it’s possible to have a different position than theirs on the basis of fundamental principles.

My position is this: Yes, it’s important that Quebec remain a predominantly French-language society. And ideally, everyone in Quebec should be able to speak French. But we should not try to reach this goal by restricting people’s rights and freedom of choice.

French will survive if Quebecers cherish it and want to preserve it; it will flourish if Quebec becomes a freer, more dynamic and prosperous society; it will thrive if we make it an attractive language that newcomers want to learn and use. Not by imposing it and by preventing people from making their own decisions in matters that concern their personal lives.

Mad Max for PM!

Update, 9 February: According to an anonymous Conservative, Maxime Bernier is “mostly harmless”.

December 14, 2010

Conservatives now still pushing corporate welfare

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:35

Okay, they’re not even pretending to be fiscally conservative any more:

The Conservative government has announced it is loaning aerospace giant Pratt & Whitney Canada $300 million for a $1 billion research project to develop the next generation of aircraft engines.

Industry Minister Tony Clement made the announcement on Monday saying it will create 700 high-skilled jobs in the GTA and more than 2,000 over the 15-year lifespan of the project. He also claimed the firm is in the process of hiring 200 engineers.

[. . .]

‘Create and maintain Canadian jobs’ has been the Conservative mantra during their recent shift to Keynesian economics and massive long-term deficits for the next half decade. The same political party that once decried government largesse and inexplicable corporate subsidies (also known affectionately as corporate welfare) is now a major player in the ‘too big to fail’ macroeconomics game.

This is nothing new: under former minister Maxime Bernier, the current darling of the small-government wing of the Conservative party, Pratt & Whitney got $350 million in corporate welfare just four years ago. That debt hasn’t been repaid.

October 13, 2010

Bernier calls for an end to transfer payments

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Government, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:24

If there’s one member of the federal Conservatives that can be said to both have ideas and be willing to express them publicly, it would have to be Maxime Bernier:

Maxime Bernier is carving out a pronounced niche for himself as the one-man Libertarian wing of the Conservative Party.

He appears also to have made a conscious decision to say what he thinks, and risk the consequences. Having been kicked out of Cabinet and survived, he may have discovered a way to turn lemons into lemonade. The most that can happen to him now is that he gets ejected from caucus as well, but given his stature as a high-profile MP in a prized riding in Quebec, would the Tory high command risk anything so self-defeating?

So what does our one-man Libertarian wing call for now?

Mr. Bernier wants Ottawa to get out of the business of subsidizing provincial programs that aren’t federal responsibility. Rather than send $40 billion a year to the provinces to pay for health and social programs, Ottawa should just chop its taxes and let the provinces take up the slack, paying for their own programs.

Yeah, I somehow don’t see Messrs. Harper, Ignatieff, or Layton coming on board with this notion. Give up taxing power to the provinces who are constitutionally responsible for the services? What do you think we are, some sort of confederation?

Other interesting snippets from his speech to the Albany Club in Toronto:

Wilfrid Laurier was another of our greatest prime ministers. He was a classical liberal, not a liberal in the modern sense. He was a supporter of individual freedom, free trade and free markets. I think if he were alive today, he would probably be a Conservative!

Yes, except he’d be in the same outsider/pariah position as Mr. Bernier finds himself in the Harper version of Conservatism.

In a speech before the Quebec Legislative Assembly in 1871, Laurier said:

“If the federal system is to avoid becoming a hollow concept, if it is to produce the results called for, the legislatures must be independent, not just in the law, but also in fact. The local legislature must especially be completely sheltered from control by the federal legislature.

If in any way the federal legislature exercises the slightest control over the local legislature, then the reality is no longer a federal union, but rather a legislative union in federal form.”

Now, it’s obvious that what Laurier feared has unfortunately come true. Ottawa exercises a lot more than “the slightest control” over local legislatures. The federal government today intervenes massively in provincial jurisdictions, and in particular in health and education, two areas where it has no constitutional legitimacy whatsoever.

As I’ve said before, I don’t know how long Bernier will be tolerated in the tightly controlled and PMO-stage-managed Conservative party, but I do enjoy the spectacle of someone actually pushing these ideas. I hope he continues to do so.

Update: Don Martin also seems to think that “Mad Max” is a breath of fresh air:

They share a party label, but Deficit Jim and Mad Max sit in polar opposite corners of the big blue tent.

The day after Finance Minister Jim Flaherty released an update which would make a left-lurching Liberal blush at the historic high tide in a red fiscal sea, Maxime Bernier delivered a jolt of hard-right policy to remind true blue Conservatives they have at least one voice on the government’s backbenches.

Flaherty is my local MP. He ran for parliament with the Conservatives, but appears to be operating in office as a Liberal.

Maverick Max went rogue again in a Toronto speech on Wednesday by advocating Ottawa get out of transfer payments to provinces while giving legislatures more tax room to finance the health, social welfare and education services they are constitutionally obliged to deliver.

For Jim Flaherty, who rolled out a blueprint on Tuesday showing continued growth in the social transfer envelope well into the next government’s mandate, the notion of surrendering $40 billion worth of fiscal clout over the provinces is a severely alien concept.

Martin has a nice article here, even if he incorrectly refers to Laurier as our first Liberal PM . . . unless he means our first (and only) “classic liberal” PM. Perhaps Bernier will be our second?

September 10, 2010

Maxime Bernier for PM!

Filed under: Cancon, Liberty, Politics — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 13:12

Now that most of us have given up on any actual free market policies coming out of the PMO, perhaps it’s time to look to someone who still appears to have libertarian tendencies:

It seems the libertarian Conservative MP is offside with the rest of his Quebec caucus colleagues over the issue of funding a multi-million-dollar hockey rink. He was conspicuously absent from a photo-op this week, in which Quebec MPs donned Nordiques jerseys to show their support for the arena and the possibility of bringing an NHL team back to the provincial capital.

“It was instructive that Quebec MP Maxime Bernier, who opposes public handouts for private enterprise, was missing from the photograph and e-mailed me a curt ‘no comment’ when asked about the merits of federal support for the arena,” National Post columnist Don Martin wrote at the time.

Mr. Bernier has since taken to the local airwaves in his Beauce riding to pour cold water on the idea of the Tories showering taxpayer dollars on sports facilities while battling a $56-billion deficfit.

Corporate give-aways of millions of dollars to billionaire sports team owners shouldn’t be merely controversial: they should be anathema. It’s that much worse when the government is deeply in debt.

Update: Maxime Bernier in his own words:

The hard reality is that we have just been through a global economic crisis — which remains very preoccupying and is likely not over — and governments in both Quebec City and Ottawa are heavily indebted. Our government has just posted a huge $56-billion deficit and the priority is to get back to a balanced budget through reductions in our own programs, and avoid by all means getting involved in risky financial ventures.

I was not at all impressed by the Ernst & Young study, which concluded that the project would be “profitable” — but only on the assumption that governments provide full funding for the construction as well as the repairs and renovations that will be necessary over the next 40 years. That’s a deceptive way of putting it. The conclusion should rather be that the project is simply not profitable and will constitute a financial burden for taxpayers for decades to come, even in the best scenario. That’s why not a single private player has been found to invest in it.

Just about any business would be “profitable” if they never had to pay rent for their business premises or buy, build, and maintain their own buildings. That isn’t the way ordinary businesses operate, and professional sports teams shouldn’t be any different. We don’t elect governments to be the primary supporters of sports team owners . . . no matter how many “complimentary” premium seats at the stadium may be offered to individual politicians.

As the great French economic Frédéric Bastiat wrote, “Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavours to live at the expense of everybody else.” When such large amounts are in play, it is impossible to calculate exactly who has received how much. We would need to go beyond a single file and take into account all public spending items, going as far back as possible.

That’s what Quebec separatists like to do. They keep telling us that Quebec has been on the losing side of the financial equation and that Ottawa has systematically been favouring Ontario for more than a century. Meanwhile, people in the rest of the country believe that Quebec is the spoiled child of the federation. Each region can point towards many examples to nurture its frustrations. It is a pointless debate which can only divide our country.

Oh, swoon!

April 26, 2010

Maxime Bernier: Harper’s successor?

Filed under: Cancon, Economics, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 17:32

Okay, so Andrew Coyne doesn’t quite go so far as to say that Bernier is the next leader of the Conservative party, but he certainly makes a case for Bernier speaking for an under-represented viewpoint in that party — actual conservatives, even (whisper it) “libertarians”:

Let’s just pause for a moment to consider what an extraordinary thing Maxime Bernier is attempting. The former minister in the Harper government is widely said to be preparing the ground for a future leadership bid. How has he been going about it? Since January, Bernier has been methodically laying explosives beneath the government and detonating them at regular intervals, in speeches and writings that, while not overtly criticizing Conservative policy, point in precisely the opposite direction to that on which the government happens to be embarked.

[. . .]

I cannot think of a precedent for this performance. Bernier is careful not to attack the party’s current leadership — just everything they’ve been doing. Yet he could hardly be accused of heresy. He represents, to paraphrase Howard Dean, the Conservative wing of the Conservative party — the party’s soul, its core beliefs, varnished as they may be under layers of expediency, yet still there. Indeed, so contorted has the Conservative party become that many people insist he is merely giving voice to what the leader himself believes.

[. . .]

Indeed, as a libertarian conservative from Quebec, he may find he has more supporters in the West. I don’t suggest he will be leader, or should. His record in cabinet was decidedly mixed: a fine industry minister, he was a disaster at Foreign Affairs. Though the speeches are thoughtful, it remains unclear whether there is a man of substance behind them, not least after the Couillard fiasco. Yet his willingness to state brave truths openly, to call the party back to its authentic self, marks him as one to watch.

I’ve often asked folks what substantive difference there is between the current Conservative government and the previous Liberal government. Other than the colour of the party signs, there’s not much actual “conservative” governing going on.

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