Maxim Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, failed to win his ride in Quebec, although the party did so by tapping into pandemic fatigue and appealing to voters that they wanted a far-right alternative that could challenge the mainstream political establishment. . .
Late Monday, Conservative incumbent Richard LeHoux was declared the winner at a ride in Beauce, Ky. Amid chants of “freedom” at his election rally in Saskatoon late Monday, Mr Bernier told supporters the party had made history.
“Canadian politics will never be the same,” he said. “It is not just a political party. This is a movement. This is an ideological revolution we are just beginning.” More than a million Canadians, he said, were part of a purple wave that he described as “Covid hysteria” and “government overreach.”
According to party-preference polls by election day, the PPC increased its support nationwide from less than 2 percent to more than 6 percent. The PPC, which was set up by Mr Bernier in 2018, went to polls without a seat. As of 11:30 pm on Monday, the party had captured 5 per cent of the votes counted so far, but had failed to win any seats based on early results.
In an interview after midnight on Tuesday, Mr Bernier said he was disappointed to have lost his seat, but saw the surge in support for his party as a “big victory”. He said that since the party received more than four percent of the popular vote, the PPC would be able to participate in debates during the next federal election campaign.
“We are the only real conservative option for this country,” Mr Bernier said. “This party will grow – we’re here to stay.”
During the campaign, the PPC faced criticism for being anti-immigration. policies which garnered support from white-nationalist groups. It has also been criticized for spreading misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines, and attracting voters fed up with restrictions and shutdowns related to the pandemic. The party framed Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s proposed vaccine passport and other policies as a violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Mr Bernier described Mr Trudeau as a “fascist psychopath”.
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The Liberal Party opposes compulsory vaccination, and Mr Bernier has not been vaccinated for COVID-19. A PPC candidate called for the arrest of BC Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry, saying in a press release that Dr. Henry had forced people to “take an injection against their will.” The PPC opted to hold its election-night rally in Saskatoon on Monday instead of riding to Mr Bernier’s home in Quebec because, at the time of the plan, Saskatchewan did not have mandatory indoor masking. However, on Friday the Prairie Province implemented such a policy.
In a flashpoint during the election contest, protesters threw gravel at Trudeau as he boarded his campaign bus. The Liberal leader blamed “anti-vaxxer mobs” for the incident and other protests that are “foaming out of their mouths” to get to him. Mr Trudeau said the country is “seeing a slide towards some of the divisions that we have been puzzled and baffled by the United States of America in the past.” A former president of the PPC Riding Association was charged with assault after the gravel-throwing incident. In that southwestern Ontario ride, the PPC candidate, Chelsea Hillier — the daughter of Independent MPP Randy Hillier of Ontario — lost to Conservative incumbent Karen Vecchio.
Paul Thomas, professor emeritus of political studies at the University of Manitoba, said increased support for the PPC may be linked to a cultural spillover from the Trump event in the US and the effects of the pandemic. “Like Trump, Mr Bernier was ‘weaponizing’ distrust of the government by appealing to and exploiting the public’s ignorance, fear, anger, desperation and sentimentality to achieve a surprising, impressive surge in popularity,” he said.
The PPC has been embroiled in other controversies. The BC Assembly of First Nations called for the removal of PPC candidate Renate Seekman, saying the Vancouver Quadra candidate distributed a pamphlet that equated the Indian residential school experience with a vaccine mandate. “Discrimination is wrong. No vaccine passport,” read the pamphlet, which featured an image of Indigenous students standing on the steps of a residential school.
In its 2019 electoral debut, the PPC got 1.6 percent of the popular vote. Without a seat in parliament, Mr Bernier was not included in the French or English debate with the three major parties, the Greens and the Bloc Québécois. The party campaigned on a promise to help small businesses by encouraging provinces to end all lockdowns and vaccine passports and reduce the size of the federal government. The PPC rejects the science of climate change and will overturn all important government policies aimed at reducing emissions.
Tom Flanagan, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Calgary, said the PPC was attractive to those looking for a more perfect alternative than the Conservative Party in this latest election. Even in Alberta’s Conservative stronghold, the PPC attracted large crowds. Managing several campaigns of the Conservative Party, Prof. “It’s really amazing how a francophone leader from Quebec turned a 1,000-person crowd in Calgary,” Flanagan said.
But electoral success in terms of earning seats is not necessarily the main motivation of the PPC, Prof. Thomas said; PPC is as much a competitive party as it is a social movement. “It appeals to something based on deep values and a sense of grievance,” he said. “This makes the party immune from ‘defeat’ in the traditional sense and means that Mr Bernier’s followers will likely remain loyal to the cause.”
At an election rally in Saskatoon, Mr Bernier said the party would be better prepared for the next election and vowed to win the PPC’s first seats. During this, the party will continue to pursue its ideals. “Unfortunately, we will not be able to continue this fight in Parliament,” he said, “but we will continue to unite the Canadian people under the umbrella of freedom.”