Fildebrandt and Bernier: Separated by regions, joined by political ambition

In the 1988 movie Twins, Danny DeVito leans into the glass dividing him and his newfound long-lost brother Arnold Schwarzenegger and declares unequivocally, “Money talks and bullshit walks!”

DeVito was trying to get his naive twin brother, who looks nothing like him, to spring him from jail.

This implausible and unconventional pairing — two dramatically different actors cast as fraternal twins bound by a common cause — runs strangely parallel to the world of conservative politics playing out this week.

Two profoundly different figures from across the country, a francophone MP from small-town Quebec and an Independent MLA from rural Alberta have cemented their relationship and are now forging similar paths to create new right-wing political parties.

Parallel but not identical

They have parallel, but not identical, political paths.  

Derek Fildebrandt, the Alberta Independent MLA and interim leader of the new Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta, and Quebec MP Maxime Bernier are political stand-outs.

They are cut from similar Libertarian cloth, woven from a disdain for regulation and love of attention.

They are brothers of a different kind, known for grabbing headlines and capturing the attention of curious onlookers who are bewildered by their strange similarity and political motivation.

Fildebrandt says the two formed a relationship when Bernier ran to lead the Conservative Party of Canada. It grew from there.

They spoke Thursday, the day Bernier stunned political observers by saying he was leaving the Conservative party to strike out on his own.

“We have very similar policy and philosophical views on the role of government,” said Fildebrandt while driving to Brooks, Alta.

He speaks of the mutual belief he shares with Bernier, that if “you’re not hurting anyone else, it’s not the government’s business” what you do.

And, he adds, they both have a mutual disdain of being muzzled.

When Quebec MP Maxime Bernier ran to lead the Conservative Party of Canada in 2017, he found support with Alberta MLAs from the Wildrose and PC parties. (CBC)

“Both Max and I, in our former respective roles with the Tories, bridled at that kind of extreme party discipline,” says Fildebrandt.

“I think we’re doing a disservice to our parliamentary traditions in Canada when we expect that every member of Parliament, and every MLA, simply be like a zombie, reading talking points and voting like a machine.”

Not welcome in the party

Fildebrandt’s jettison from the UCP caucus had less to with what he said and more with what he did.

Fildebrandt left the UCP caucus a year ago after a series of legal scandals. Since then, he has been sitting as the Independent MLA for Strathmore-Brooks.

United Conservative Party (UCP) leader Jason Kenney later shut the door on his return after Fildebrandt pleaded guilty to illegally shooting a deer on private land.

In a statement at the time, Kenney said that Fildebrandt “deliberately misled” him by failing to disclose the poaching charge.

Kenney has said he would not allow Fildebrandt to run as a UCP candidate in the next provincial election, regardless of what support he gathered in the constituency.

There was no waffling, no second or third chances. He was out.

At the federal Conservative party level, Maxime Bernier wasn’t removed from caucus — instead, he left on his own to form a new political party.

This came after a series of events setting Bernier apart from the federal Conservative party, the latest being his comments about what he termed the Trudeau government’s policies of “extreme multiculturalism and cult of diversity.”

No room on the right

MacEwan University political scientist John Soroski says he was surprised to see Bernier jump out to form his own party, given that he nearly became the leader of the party he just left.

Calling it “strategically unwise,” Soroski says there may be another factor motivating Bernier.

“The next thing you think about in politics is the matter of egos,” said Soroski.

He wonders if Bernier may not be patient enough to wait for another run at the Conservative leadership.

“When you think of Derek Fildebrandt,” added Soroski, “the ego comes up pretty quickly, I think, on the list of things.”

While Soroski thinks there is an element of support for both Fildebrandt and Bernier, he doesn’t believe there is much room on the political right.

In the case of Fildebrandt, Soroski “can’t see it being a huge success.”

Fildebrandt is now hustling to organize the Freedom Conservative Party founding convention and annual general meeting in Chestermere on Oct. 20.

Saying he has been “flooded with calls and emails” since Thursday, Fildebrandt said it is possible he’ll “co-operate” with Bernier’s new party in the future.

For now, however, Fildebrandt dismisses the idea of running under the Bernier banner in the next federal election in 2019.

“My attention right now is on Alberta and on building the Freedom Conservative Party of Alberta,” he said.

It may not just be “ego and ambition,” motivating Fildebrandt and Bernier, says Soroski.

Soroski said that the motivating factors aren’t all just “ego and ambition,” saying that some protest parties have seen significant success, such as the federal Reform Party and the Alberta Wildrose Party.

Like two characters with a fictitious movie plot, Bernier and Fildebrandt share more than just a common goal.

“There’s pairing, but they’re clearly not identical,” said Soroski.

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