Has Populism Infiltrated Canadian Politics?
Photo Credit: iPolitics
There’s now a new political party in Canada that has the potential to seriously influence next year’s federal election: the People’s Party of Canada (PPC).
Founded by former Conservative Party leadership candidate and cabinet minister Maxime Bernier on September 14, the new right-wing party hopes to be a major player in the upcoming 2019 federal election.
Maxime Bernier, a staunch libertarian, barely lost the Conservative Party leadership race to Andrew Scheer over a year ago. The defeat led Bernier to become more and more alienated from the Conservative Party until, after much foreshadowing, he left the Party to form his own—the PPC.
Bernier has stated that the Conservative Party is too morally defunct to be fixed. He claims that he doesn’t need polling to see what values he should support, unlike the Conservatives. “For me, I don’t need to do any polling,” Bernier says on TVO’s The Agenda. “It’s our values—and people who like it, perfect, they are welcome.” He has stated many times that he isn’t trying to please everyone, which he claims the other three major parties consistently do.
The PPC can be considered, for the moment at least, a one-man show. Not only has the Party been founded and headed solely by Bernier thus far, its platform is also identical to the one he ran on during the race for leadership of the Conservative Party. Some of its main policies involve shrinking government, reducing immigration, and forging a more Canadian-centric foreign policy.
From this brief outline, you may already be forming connections between the PPC and similar populist parties in Europe. Over the past few years, a surge of European populist parties such as the Freedom Party of Austria and the now infamous Alternative for Germany (AFD) have gained prominence—enough so that many have begun to pose a threat to the dominant parties across the continent.
The comparison between the People’s Party of Canada and its populist European counterparts should not be exaggerated, however; the Party’s platform is more moderate than many of those in Europe. The AFD, for instance, has put forth explicit anti-Islamic rhetoric and advocated for police to “shoot at migrants” if necessary. The same virulent anti-immigrant and refugee rhetoric can be seen in many other far-right parties across the continent.
The People’s Party of Canada hasn’t yet advocated for anything so extreme. Despite wanting to limit immigration, Bernier’s party isn’t against it entirely—though its platform does propose reducing the number of immigrants coming in to Canada from 300,000 to 250,000 a year.
The Party also doesn’t explicitly disavow multiculturalism, saying instead that immigration policy shouldn’t “forcibly change the cultural character and social fabric of Canada, as radical proponents of multiculturalism want.” Whether this moderate tone is due to Bernier’s own values or to the fact that it would be political suicide to completely disavow multiculturalism in a country built on that very ideal is difficult to discern. Either way, his party shouldn’t be mistaken as identical to its counterparts in Europe.
The PPC poses a potentially serious threat for the Conservatives in the upcoming election. Given how close the margins were between Scheer and Bernier in the previous Conservative Leadership race, it’s possible that many conservative voters will vote for the PPC in the upcoming election. This would split the conservative vote enough to let the Liberal party win the election—perhaps even with a majority government.
Bernier, upon being asked to comment on this possibility, responded in true populist fashion. As his party name states, Bernier insists that his strength lies in the fact that he speaks on behalf of all Canadians—particularly disenfranchised ones who are sick of regular politicians. He also claims that his policy proposal aimed at cutting corporate welfare might cause some NDP voters to come his way. Despite Bernier’s optimism, this seems highly unlikely. Though corporate welfare is something that NDP voters tend to dislike, Bernier’s policies on immigration and the environment (as he proposes to scrap the Carbon Tax) will likely push most left-leaning voters away.
Political forecasts predict that Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada will struggle in the upcoming election, but more surprising things have occurred within national politics over the past few years. Whether the Party fails completely, splits the conservative vote or brings in new voters as Bernier wishes is up in the air. For now, no party can rest easy as the election approaches with no clear favorite in view.
Article Photo Credit: The Globe and Mail
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 These paraphrases come from an interview he did for Cbc’s “The House”
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