See: Maxime Bernier Burns His Bridges and Read the speech.
As you can imagine, it went over like a lead balloon and Bernier was chastised and even labelled a "Quebec-basher' by no less than the Liberal finance Minister Raymond Bachand, himself. The ad hominem attacks failed to address the issues he brought up, which is typical of those who have no arguments to put forth.
“I was flabbergasted to hear his false, contemptuous declarations,” said the former separatist premier, Bernard LandryWhile the speech was received negatively in most of Quebec, it got the opposite reaction amongst traditional conservatives across the country and all of a sudden, Maxim Bernier was lifted from obscurity to someone on everyone's radar.
To refresh everyone's memory, Bernier was a rising star in the Harper cabinet until a silly indiscretion, where he left some confidential documents at his then girlfriends house. It turns out that the girlfriend had some dubious contacts with bikers and the press and the opposition had a field day playing up the story as a national security issue, when in fact it was her boobs and her 'hotness,' more than her dubious contacts that made her interesting.
Stephen Harper could have easily backed his minister and ridden out the storm, but back then, he was riding high on his morality horse and dropped Bernier from the cabinet over the indiscretion.
Bernier had no choice but to accept the demotion with dignity, but felt betrayed. When after a suitable period in purgatory and he wasn't returned to cabinet, he realized that the writing was on the wall for him, as far as Harper goes.
And so Bernier retired to the back benches, quietly plotting his return. It isn't an uncommon phenomenon, just ask Quebec Liberal Pierre Paradis who is now plotting to overthrow Jean Charest, after a similar falling out and banishment.
It's all about timing...
Last week Bernier struck and did so with a vengeance.
Although a majority of Harper's Conservative party caucus were aghast at the idea of federal money being spent in support of private industry, Harper was confident that he could hold everyone in line with the promise of a majority government.
Of course, helping Quebec City get a new arena would mean that the feds would have to help Edmonton, Regina and other Canadian cities realize their stadium or arena dreams, but no matter, the whole commitment would cost under two billion dollars, a fair price to pay, in his estimation, I imagine, for a majority government.
After all, Harper had no qualms about blowing a billion dollars on the G20 conference in Toronto, with zero long-term return.
Plans were going along neatly with Quebec federal Conservative MPs posing for the media in Nordiques jerseys, giving the media and the public, a not so subtle message that help might well be on the way.
But conspicuous by his absence was Maxime Bernier and he was soon questioned by the press as to why he didn't appear in the picture.
At first Bernier played it coy, offering a terse 'NO COMMENT' to reporters, but as the pressure built and a Conservative backlash developed, he finally unloaded in his blog.
"...I too share the dream of again seeing a professional hockey team come back to play in our region and I sincerely hope that a way will be found to make this dream come true. But dreaming does not make the hard financial reality go away. It’s nice to have dreams, but when you use borrowed money to achieve them and act as if money grows on trees, you may have a brutal awakening. For all these reasons, I cannot in good conscience support this project." Read the blog piece in English
It seems that Bernier has effectively destroyed Harpers's plans and the 'arena gambit' is dead.
Support for Bernier in the Conservative party is slowly and quietly building. He is now being perceived as an attractive package and a viable alternative to Harper, who is more and more being seen as a sell-out to traditional conservative values and like the biblical Moses, he seems unable to deliver the ultimate prize.
For Harper it's another bitter lesson that punishing foes and adversaries by banishing them, may not be the best prescription.
Like Helena Guergis, who was also thrown under the bus prematurely and who is coming back to haunt Harper now that she has been exonerated, Bernier is now more than a thorn in the side and is launching a legitimate challenge.
Lost on Harper is the old "Art of War" quote;
Bernier remains safe in his Beauce Parliamentary seat. The region is atypically federalist, and fiercely entrepreneurial. Nothing will unseat him. Although unpopular for his stand on the Quebec arena now, the press is begrudgingly respectful."Keep Your Friends Close and Your Enemies Closer" -Sun Tzi
Should he ever become leader of the federal Conservatives, his good looks might even trigger a modern Trudeaumania effect. If he can deliver between 30-35 seats in Quebec, the Conservatives might well achieve a true 'Big C' Conservative majority, something Harper is unlikely to ever produce. It's not impossible, Brian Mulroney once delivered 58 seats. Things change quickly in Quebec.
For Bernier, revenge is sweet.
Not only has he destroyed Harper's "arena gambit," he has raised his profile and stature.
For Bernier, his star is rising, having "passed GO and collected his $200 successfully"