Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday September 17, 2021
‘Mad Max’ and why his party is on the rise
In 2018, after a falling out with his party and amid a backlash over statements he made about immigration and multiculturalism, then member of Parliament Maxime Bernier quit the Conservatives and formed his own federal party.
Mr Bernier, a former Canadian foreign minister, is a populist with a libertarian bent who supporters have nicknamed “Mad Max”. He has previously described his upstart party, the People’s Party of Canada (PPC), as a coalition of people “disenchanted with traditional politicians”.
The PPC has a wide-ranging platform that includes limiting immigration, an end to corporate welfare, a pro-firearms stance, and a rejection of what it terms “climate change alarmism”.
However, one issue above all has come to the forefront in the 2021 election: vaccine mandates and lockdowns.
Mr Bernier, 58, has been a vocal opponent of the what he calls “authoritarian” restrictions, claiming in an August rally, for example, that vaccine passports “will create two kinds of citizens, some with more rights than others”.
Such statements are “a huge part of the story behind the surge [for the PPC]”, said Elizabeth Goodyear-Grant, a political studies professor at Queens University.
“A lot of this has been generated by the party seizing on the sense that anti-lockdown, anti-vaccine passport sentiments exist in the population.”
Polling data suggests that this message is gaining momentum among some Canadian voters even while the country has some of the world’s highest vaccination rates – over 80%.
Recent tracking poll numbers from CBC, for example, ranked the PPC in fourth place nationally at 6.5% – ahead of the Green Party and the Bloc Québécois, which only runs candidates in Quebec. (The Liberals and the Conservative are in a statistical tie at around 30%).
In the 2019 election, by comparison, the PPC earned just 1.6% of the popular vote and Mr Bernier lost his own seat.
A significant portion of the party’s swelling support base comes from first time or irregular voters, as well as siphoning support from the Conservatives in parts of their western Canada political strongholds, said Prof Goodyear-Grant.
“They are taking some support from all the other parties as well, which suggests there are people across all parties that are opposed to some of the [pandemic] measures that have been put in place,” she said.
Provinces like Quebec, Ontario, and British Columbia have all in recent weeks brought in vaccine passport systems that limit access in certain settings as cases rise in a fourth pandemic wave. (BBC News)