Toronto Star

Far-right groups are endorsing People’s Party

Bernier seen by many as a vehicle to oppose immigratio­n, vaccinatio­n

- ALEX BOUTILIER OTTAWA BUREAU

OTTAWA—Far-right and white nationalis­t groups are pushing their followers to support Maxime Bernier’s insurgent People’s Party of Canada in next week’s federal election.

On the fringes of the internet and in encrypted chat rooms, groups like Canada First and the Canadian Nationalis­t Front are encouragin­g their thousands of adherents to back Bernier’s PPC.

While not all People’s Party supporters are motivated by white nationalis­m or far-right extremism, it is clear that white nationalis­t and far-right groups view the party as a viable vehicle for their grievance-fuelled politics.

The party, which polls suggest has seen a surge in public support in recent weeks, has found support among some in farright circles over its opposition to mandatory vaccinatio­ns, vaccine passports and Bernier’s pledge to dramatical­ly curb immigratio­n.

But the party’s anti-establishm­ent pose appears to be the common thread uniting farright groups behind Bernier.

“Justin Trudeau, Jagmeet Singh and Erin O’Toole may get the grand share of the votes, but they represent nobody other than the system; and we f--hate them,” reads one recent post on Canada First’s Telegram channel, which boast nearly 5,000 subscriber­s.

“Vote PPC, take as much power away from these three shills as you possibly can.”

“Beware of people that sow division, ‘tis the tactic of our leftist enemies to spread disinforma­tion,” reads another from the Canadian Nationalis­t Front. “Stick to the important issues like immigratio­n reform and economics, ignore the dividers, PPC is the only viable option in the future for our future.”

Bernier has capitalize­d on the anger and anxiety over COVID-19 public health measures like lockdowns, as well as vaccine hesitancy and opposition to mandatory vaccinatio­ns and vaccine passports. Bernier himself claims to have refused the COVID-19 vaccine.

He has also openly courted groups on the far-right fringe. On Friday, Bernier was interviewe­d by Rebel Media after he was excluded from the official leaders debates. On Tuesday, his public schedule said he was being interviewe­d by Jordan Peterson, the University of Toronto professor turned online guru for disaffecte­d young men.

“The big debate in far-right spaces last election was whether to strategica­lly vote (Conservati­ve) or vote PPC,” said Evan Balgord, an anti-racism campaigner with the Canadian Anti-Hate Network. “This time around, it’s all PPC.”

On Tuesday, the Star notified the People’s Party about the farright and white nationalis­t groups promoting its cause online.

“We have nothing to do with extremist groups and have nothing to offer them. We’ve been more than clear since the party’s founding that there is no place for racists in our party,” party spokespers­on Martin Masse replied in an emailed statement.

“Every time it has come to our attention that someone who supports extremist positions has any position in our party, they were expelled. That’s how we ensure they don’t find a home in the PPC.”

Based on current public polling, it is unlikely that the People’s Party will gain a significan­t toehold in the next Parliament. The Signal, the Star’s election forecast by Vox Pop Labs, put the party’s support at 6.7 per cent nationwide Tuesday, but only projected it winning a single seat — in Beauce, the Quebec riding that Bernier formerly represente­d as a Conservati­ve MP.

But even without winning seats, the People’s Party could have a significan­t impact on the election’s outcome, according to Vox Pop’s Clifton van der Linden.

“If the trend in voting for PPC candidates holds out until election day, and holds out at the numbers we’re currently saying, then I think you’re going to see some seats go to the Liberals in particular where the Conservati­ves would have otherwise won,” van der Linden said in an interview.

Vox Pop Labs has assembled a database of 8,685 self-identified PPC supporters. According to that data, the majority of PPC support — 59 per cent — comes from voters who previously supported the Conservati­ve party.

PPC support skews male — 58 per cent — and from voters ages 18 to 40. Regionally, PPC supporters are concentrat­ed in Ontario (42 per cent), followed by Alberta, the Prairie provinces and British Columbia. Most would fit in a broad definition of middle class and hold decentpayi­ng blue collar jobs, van der Linden said.

The PPC’s comparativ­ely strong support compared to its 2019 election finish has led some Conservati­ves to worry the parties will split the rightof-centre vote — as the Reform party and the Progressiv­e Conservati­ves did in the 1990s. That would be especially concerning for the Conservati­ves in Ontario, the province that will probably decide the election and where the party has been aggressive­ly targeting workingcla­ss voters.

A senior Conservati­ve source downplayed those concerns Tuesday, suggesting the party’s internal polling is not registerin­g the same PPC spike that public pollsters are reporting.

“They are not costing us any seats,” said the source, who discussed the issue on the condition they not be named.

 ?? JASON FRANSON THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier at a rally in Vegreville, Alta. When asked about far-right groups backing the party, a spokespers­on said, “There is no place for racists in our party.”
JASON FRANSON THE CANADIAN PRESS People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier at a rally in Vegreville, Alta. When asked about far-right groups backing the party, a spokespers­on said, “There is no place for racists in our party.”

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