Last week, I got in a carpool with some young guys from Waterloo, and headed Etobicoke for the much-hyped People’s Party of Canada (PPC) rally.
The main attraction, of course, was the party’s leader, Maxime Bernier, the ex-Conservative libertarian maverick from Quebec.
The energy in the room (a classy venue called ‘The Vue’) was almost frantic, with an estimated 1,100 people in attendance.
The highlight for me was managing to get an interview with ‘Mad Max’ at the end of the event. But between Bernier’s speech, and the conversations I had with party supporters and organizers, a few things about the People’s Party became very clear to me.
“Fake News” & the CBC
From the moment we arrived, I knew this would be a sizeable event, partly because of the lineups outside the venue, and also because of the presence of mainstream media organizations.
One would think that a new political party may be enthused by the increased media attention, especially outside of an election campaign.
Yet despite the fact that CityTV, Global and CBC were all covering the event, the crowd repeatedly jeered at the mention of journalists or media.
In a telling moment, when Bernier talked about a Toronto Sun article (the Toronto Sun typically leans to the right), someone yelled out “Fake news!” prompting laughter and applause from the audience.
Part of Bernier’s platform includes cutting funding to the CBC, which was a major hit with the PPC supporters.
Interestingly, (although unconfirmed) I’m told that the CBC reporter was essentially chased out of the room after trying to get video footage of former Rebel media commentator Faith Goldy, who was reportedly in attendance.
The animosity towards mainstream news organizations—the CBC in particular—was ultimately a boon for independent media, but it was certainly striking, especially insofar as it mirrored the type of anti-journalist rhetoric we’ve come to expect south of the border.
Scheer the “weak leader”
There is no love lost for Conservative Party leader Andrew Scheer among PPC supporters.
Bernier used a good chunk of his speech to paint Scheer as a slightly more moderate version of Justin Trudeau, saying that the Liberals are the new Left, the Conservatives occupy the Centre, and the People’s Party are the only real right-wing party in Canada.
Many of the supporters and party organizers we spoke to agreed that Scheer has no clear vision or guiding principles.
Bernier railed against the Conservatives for apparently conducting “polling and focus groups” to determine their party’s position, instead of leading with conviction. And despite the fact that every PPC member seemed to think splitting the vote with the Conservatives wasn’t a big issue (“We attract voters from ALL parties”), the attacks on Scheer definitely seem to suggest that they’re looking to poach Conservative voters first and foremost.
A devoted voter base
The final thing that really struck me after speaking with the PPC supporters present was how devoted they were to the leader, Maxime Bernier.
Of course, certain specific policies played well to the crowd – controlling immigration (“Canada first!”), and ending supply management (the “dairy cartel”) & ending funding for the “dysfunctional” United Nations. But people genuinely seemed enamoured with Bernier himself.
They spoke of his ability to say what was on his mind unequivocally, and of the “grassroots movement” he had initiated. The small irony was not lost on me of a heavily accented Quebecois businessman in an expensive suit managing to captivate a thousand Torontonians with a kind of Canadian populism that has faint echoes of Trumpism.
This bizarre scene would have been hard to imagine 20 or 30 years ago.
Does Maxime Bernier have a shot of becoming Prime Minister in 2019?
That depends on many things.
Organizing a well-attended rally is one thing, but organizing 338 riding associations, recruiting 338 viable candidates, and raising millions of dollars to fund a national election campaign are quite another thing.
Despite all the talk in Etobicoke of a “grassroots movement,” this still feels very much like the “Maxime Bernier Party.”
If Bernier can’t shake that image, and get the nitty-gritty organizational work out of the way, then the rally in Etobicoke may be the highlight of a short-lived People’s Party…
Where do you think the People’s Party is going? Join the conversation by commenting below!