Strong & Free: Maxime Bernier and the PPC
By: Jack Parsons
The presentation room in the Halifax Club on Hollis street was full of chairs, the number of which said that there were more people to expect. The projector remained off, and the podium was empty. There were four people in the room, each fidgeting with their phones or double-checking cameras and equipment. At that point Maxime Bernier was 20 minutes late.
The tardiness of the federal leader was to be expected. The father of the People’s Party of Canada, which formed in September of 2018, had been met with protests for much of his visit, forcing his campaign team to cancel or reschedule much of his itinerary for the trip, including a radio appearance on News 95.7 and a press event at the Halifax Club.
Depending on who is being asked, the enigmatic PPC leader is either a racist xenophobe who hates immigrants, or a charming Quebecois fellow who wants to balance the budget and bring immigrants here legally to enjoy a better quality of life. The protestors outside the Marriot hotel in downtown Halifax believed the former.
“Since the PPC’s conception, they have been inundated with neo-nazis, racists, islamophobes, all sorts of different types of bigots, and they are the party of choice for the far-right political movement that’s manifesting in Canada,” said Against Hate protestor John Brown, a sentiment that was shared by the other chanting protestors.
But these accusations mean very little to PPC supporters.
“No politician, wants to have a discussion about that. It’s too risky. Maybe you’ll be a radical, or a racist, or a white supremicist,” said Bernier about lowering the number of immigrants, eliciting a laugh from his crowd of party members and supporters in Halifax.
Bernier is not a stranger to Canadian politics, having served as a Conservative MP since 2006, under the fledgling Harper government, before splitting from the conservatives to form his own party following his failed conservative leadership bid. He lost to Andrew Scheer with 49.05 per cent of the vote to Scheers 50.95 per cent.
His father Gilles Bernier, was also a politician representing the same riding of Beauce in Quebec. Much like his son, Gilles began as a Conservative MP but did not end his career as one, instead becoming an independant. Bernier attributes some of his grassroots success with the PPC to his father’ techniques.
“If you want to be in politics, you have to be able to like your relationships with people, that’s the basics. That’s what I learned from him, to listen, to be out there, to be on the ground, and that’s what I like. That’s what I did during the campaign when we started to create the party a year ago,” said Bernier.
It is true that Bernier seems to prefer a tongue-in-cheek attitude towards his public appearances, a trait of similar populist leaders such as Donald Trump. At the PPC rally he joked about the comparisons between he and Trump. At least one person in the crowd of the rally was sporting a hat that said “Make America Great Again”, the U.S presidents signature 2016 campaign phrase.
The PPC rally was held in a big, well-lit room at the Marriot, full of people in suits drinking water out of wine-glasses. This contrasted the dreary scene of the hoodie-clad protestors in the wind and rain positioned outside the front of the hotel.
“They’re scared of us, they’re scared we’ll become popular,” one PPC supporter could be heard saying, speaking of the protestors outside.
Outside moments earlier, protestor John Brown could be heard yelling at people entering the hotel.
“Why are you here? Who do you hate? Who do you hate?” he said.
Whatever Bernier is doing, it is prompting reactions along the entire spectrum of political opinion, and opinions appear to be polarized strongly for or against.
Bernier, for his part, refrained from directly attacking his political opponents at the rally. He spoke positively about his relationship with Green Party leader Elizabeth May, and how they were seat-mates in the house of commons. He did use this point to highlight the successful growth of his party, however.
“Elizabeth asked me ‘how many members do you have?’ and I said ‘about 28,000,’ and she looked at me and she was being honest, she said ‘Maxime, you can be proud because after 35 years we have only 19,000 members across the country,’” said Bernier.
Bernier delivered his speeches, smiling and cracking jokes along the way, choosing not to attack his opponents, but instead to tactfully undermine campaign promises or show how his party has outperformed rivals, such as with Green Party member numbers.
As for his campaign promises, Bernier took his hardest stances against Andrew Scheer.
He repeatedly took aim at politicians who only promise what people want to hear, saying that his party knows what their beliefs are, and will represent Canadians with those beliefs. He also doubled-down on his promise to balance the budget in two years, as opposed to Scheers five-year plan to do the same.
Policy wise, Bernier has firmly positioned himself and his party unapologetically to the right of Scheer, who he has called a centrist.
Although polling numbers and seat projections for the PPC remain the lowest of the six major parties, Bernier and his new party represent a niche of Canadians that reject establishment politics and what they view as the “political correctness” of politics in Canada.
He may not find much success this time around, but the future of this upstart leader and his party is certainly going to be unpredictable. Whether one agrees or disagrees with him, it will be worth keeping an eye on Maxime Bernier.