Originally written Feb. 7, 2019
The Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) has a new enemy to overcome in the upcoming federal election. Maxime Bernier is promising to steal some of the Conservative voting base with his recently formed People’s Party of Canada (PPC). The party, which is built on a combination of Libertarian and populist views, has been challenging the Conservatives on many of their policies since its creation in September. Bernier’s supporters include Libertarians and social conservatives who feel isolated from other political parties in Canada. But, whether support for the PPC is strong enough to impact results of the 2019 federal election remains to be seen.
Bernier, a former cabinet minister and leadership candidate for the Conservative Party created the People’s Party in Sept. 2018 after resigning from the Conservative Party following criticism for his controversial tweets about immigration.
In a press conference on Aug. 23, the Quebec Member of Parliament said, ‘I have come to realize over the past year that this party is too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed.” He continued, “I know for a fact that many in the caucus privately oppose the prime management but buying votes in a few key ridings is more important than defending the interests of all Canadians.”
Prior to his resignation, Bernier challenged Andrew Scheer’s legitimacy as party leader after narrowly losing the leadership candidacy to him.
In his book, Doing Politics Differently: My Vision for Canada, Bernier alleges that Scheer won the leadership race due to “fake Conservatives.” He claims that the number of registered conservatives moved from 6,000 to 16,000 during the final months of the campaign, but later dropped to 6,000, indicating that new party members did not renew their membership after voting.
“Andrew, along with several other candidates, was then busy touring Quebec’s agricultural belt, including my own riding of Beauce, to pick up support from these fake Conservatives, only interested in blocking my candidacy and protecting their privileges,” Bernier wrote. “Interestingly, one year later, most of them have not renewed their memberships and are not members of the party anymore.”
While Scheer refrained to comment on Bernier’s claims while he remained in the party, he spoke out after Bernier’s resignation, saying that Bernier was never able to accept the result of the leadership race.
In a press release at the Halifax CPC convention in August, Scheer stated, “Maxime has been afforded every opportunity to be a helpful and contributing member of the Conservative team. However, since losing the leadership, Maxime has proven that he is more interested in advancing his personal profile than advancing Conservative principles.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Bernier’s divisive presence and eventual exit was met with relief from many prominent CPC figures.
After a series of public disputes about immigration on Twitter, Michelle Rempel, a Conservative Member of Parliament and the CPC immigration critic, said in press conference in August, “Does he [Bernier] want Andrew Scheer to win or does he want Justin Trudeau to win?” Rempel said. “I’ve made my choice; I would like Andrew Scheer to win. Others can make their choices accordingly.”
Following his departure later that same week, Rempel said Bernier’s “failure” was due to his own selfishness.
“If you look at when politicians fail, there’s one thing that’s common to most of them; It’s when they forget that they’re, you know, they’re there to be a public servant and when they put themselves first,” she said. “So, you ask who [Bernier] chose? He chose himself.”
Jason Kenney, current leader of the United Conservative Party in Alberta, also slammed the Quebec politician, noting, “I think [Andrew Scheer] has the overwhelming support of this party. With the exception of Max’ ego outburst today, I’ve never seen this party more united in opposition before.”
While many conservative delegates rejected the notion that the PPC would be able to steal any votes from the CPC at the recent Halifax convention, Paul Thomas, a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Political Science at Carleton University, who specializes in political parties, said it would be surprising if Bernier did not manage to solidify some conservative voters.
“It’s difficult to say exactly how big of an affect it will have but it would be surprising if they did not manage to take some votes away from the Conservative Party,” he said. “If anything, [the PPC] is just more perhaps an indication of frustration with status quo parties. . .that sort of discontent with the establishment, it might be a symbol of that.”
Thomas said those who feel isolated from other political parties are likely to turn to the PPC.
“I think it gives a potential outlet for people who feel that they have been shut out of other parties,’ Thomas said. “Many policies advocated for by the People’s Party are at the right end of the spectrum.”
He referred to PPC candidate for the byelection in Burnaby South, Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, a long-standing social conservative who is opposed to transgender rights.
“That person may not have had a platform within the Conservative Party of Canada, but within the People’s Party, it gives another opportunity for someone who might have views of the further right end of the spectrum, to have a platform to speak.”
This explanation follows Bernier’s own claims that the CPC is failing those on the right. In his televised resignation, Bernier stated, “The Conservative Party has abandoned conservatives. It does not represent them anymore.”
But, Bernier’s exit from the CPC is also prominent because of how narrowly he lost the leadership candidacy – a sign of divisiveness in the CPC voting base.
According to an article from CBC, Scheer took 17,221.2 points in contrast to 16,577.8 points for Bernier — or 50.95 to 49.05 per cent – meaning Bernier supporters could cause serious damage to the CPC voting base.
In recent months, the CPC has made efforts to limit the fallout of Bernier’s party. Thomas said some of the recent changes to CPC policies is a sign that the party is addressing the PPC and hoping to win back far-right voters.
“The Conservative Party itself has adopted positions on some issues like immigration, that have been more in line with the People’s Party,” he said. “It seems to be trying to minimize the impact that the People’s Party could have.”
Thomas also noted that the CPC has raised issues about the UN Global Migration compact, which has was first flagged by Bernier. Bernier publicly attacked Rempel on Twitter for failing to immediately reject the compact. Three days later, the CPC publicly stated that it denounced the compact.
Immigration isn’t the only policy the conservatives have pushed back on. While the CPC has always been strong on the issue of not raising any taxes, Thomas said the party has been much more vocal about it in the last few weeks and has even moved motions in Parliament calling on the government to never to raise taxes.
“Those are policies that do go well with the base of the People’s Party,” he added.
Thomas also said the Conservative Party’s opposition to the carbon tax is in compliance with Maxime’s policies. The PPC has vowed not to respond to climate change, while the Conservative Party has pledged to tackle climate change, only without a carbon tax or similar measures, said Thomas.
“Conversely, no previous Conservative Party has ever sort of entertained a carbon tax either, so from that point of view, it’s more that they’re not moving in the direction where many economists and others might want them to go,” he noted.
The PPC has already impacted the Conservative Party’s policies, but whether the party carries enough support to impact the Conservative voting base in the upcoming federal election remains to be seen.
A poll from the CBC in October found that the PPC had the support of only 1.7 per cent of Canadian voters, meaning they could take one seat in the federal election.
But, Thomas said that voters that traditionally opt for the Conservative Party are more likely to vote for the People’s Party if they believe the Conservatives don’t have a chance at winning the election.
“Whether it’s enough to sway the election is a somewhat different question because in some part it will depend on whether voters perceive that the Conservatives have a good chance of forming government,” he said. “If they do, some people might who might have otherwise voted for Maxime Bernier might just vote for Andrew Scheer and the Conservatives in hopes of moving the Liberals out of power. But if there’s more of a sign that ‘Oh, the Liberals are going to win anyway’ than people might abandon in the Conservative Party in greater numbers.”