Global wave of new political parties comes to Canada with the People’s Party

Canadian Member of Parliament (MP) and former Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) leadership candidate Maxime Bernier created a new right-of-center federal political party called the People’s Party on Canada (PPC) on September 14, 2018. As of Friday, January 18, 2019 the PPC is officially registered with Elections Canada. Between Friday evening’s announcement and Sunday evening, the PPC raised nearly CAD $200,000 in private donations to ready their campaign for the October 2019 federal election.

It’s the fastest growing political party in Canadian history. Just before Christmas, the new party already had nearly 34,000 members and constituency associations in every riding across the country, complete with full boards of directors and founding meetings. The PPC has nominated four candidates to date, including Mr. Bernier. Its policy platform is still in development, which is anticipated to largely reflect the platform Mr. Bernier campaigned on as candidate for leadership of the CPC.

 

A leader for Millennials and democracy and freedom advocates

Leader of the PPC Maxime Bernier is a libertarian who fits the ‘fiscally conservative, socially liberal’ political archetype, one which resonates strongly with most Canadian Millennials’ political values.

A former businessman and lawyer, Mr. Bernier was elected to the House of Commons as a CPC MP in 2006 with the largest majority outside of Alberta and appointed to Cabinet under Prime Minister Stephen Harper as Minister of Industry, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and Minister of State for Small Business and Tourism. Mr. Bernier was re-elected for a fourth time in 2015, earning more than 59 percent of the vote. Anticipated to win, with strong polling, fundraising, and caucus support, at nearly 49 percent Mr. Bernier narrowly lost out on becoming CPC leader in May 2017 to Andrew Scheer, who then removed Mr. Bernier from the CPC shadow cabinet for publicly challenging the Party on supply management in Canada’s dairy sector.

On August 23, 2018, Mr. Bernier left the CPC to sit as an independent MP and announced the launch of a new party. In his news conference, Mr. Bernier said, "My leader told me and every other Canadian that I don't have any influence in the party," referring to Mr. Scheer's statement that Mr. Bernier didn't speak for the Conservatives. Political tribalism drew the ire of those including CPC MP Michelle Rempel, who told reporters that Mr. Bernier had to pick a side: Scheer or Trudeau.

In his resignation letter, Mr. Bernier stood firm on his principles:

“How can we expect this party to adopt any conservative reform when it comes to power, if it cannot even articulate a clear stand and defend them before it is elected? I am now convinced that what we will get if Andrew Scheer becomes prime minister is just a more moderate version of the disastrous Trudeau government.

I have come to realize over the past year that this party is too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed.

I know for a fact that many in the caucus privately oppose supply management. But buying votes in a few key ridings is more important than defending the interests of all Canadians.

The whole strategy of the party is to play identity politics, pander to various interest groups and buy votes with promises, just like the Liberals.

... If we want conservative principles to win the battle of ideas, we have to defend them openly, with passion and conviction.

That is what I want to do. And this is why as of today, I am no longer a member of the Conservative Party of Canada. I want to do politics differently. I will find another way to give a voice to millions of Canadians. And I will continue to fight for Freedom, Responsibility, Fairness and Respect.

Death of traditional political parties in the West

Many will argue the creation of the PPC will only result in a split right-wing vote in the October 2019 federal election, which would otherwise be an easier potential win for the CPC against Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is weak in domestic and foreign influence and ineffective when not destructive in public policy decisions, losing the support of many who otherwise would not have backed the Liberals.

However, the rapid acceleration and growth of the PPC in terms of membership numbers (impressive for even a provincial start-up political party), donations reaching CAD $200,000 in two days over a weekend, having already established constituency associations in every riding across the country with boards of directors and founding meetings, and nominations underway, should not be understated.

Should Canadians vote the way they actually want to instead of strategic voting, there may be a healthy surprise for the PPC’s ambitions. At a time when voters in western democracies are increasingly fed up with the politically correct, politically safe, and stale political parties that have not evolved or taken intelligent risks with their policies, let alone determined a real vision for the future, Mr. Bernier may be better informed regarding his goals than his detractors credit him with. It is questionable whether Mr. Scheer, someone whom the majority of Canadians cannot easily recognize and attribute actions to, has the personal brand or policy fortitude to earn Canadians’ confidence, particularly in the face of significant economic and social challenges across the regions of the country.

There have been several upsets in recent elections that have gone against the grain of establishment politicians and mainstream media from ‘Brexit’ in the United Kingdom, President Emmanuel Macron’s election in France under a new political banner, and Millennial Chancellor Sebastian Kurz in Austria also with a new political party.

 

Disavowing the Conservative Party, but not conservatives

Currently named the Conservative Party of Canada, the country’s federal conservative politics split into two factions in the late 1980's between the existing Progressive Conservatives and the offshoot Reform Party, which later became the Canadian Alliance. Unity between the two factions came through a reunification agreement between Alliance leader Stephen Harper and PC leader Peter Mackay under the new banner of the Conservative Party of Canada in 2003.

With the creation of the People’s Party of Canada, center-right or conservative Canadians again have a choice between two political parties. However, unlike the split a generation ago that was based predominantly upon moderate versus religious social values, whereas Reform was led by the far-right Social Credit manifestation known as Preston Manning that never grew beyond its narrow base, Mr. Bernier is leading a movement predicated upon libertarian values that focus on economic issues first and foremost. This comes when all 9.5 Canadian Millennials, born between 1980 and 2000 and aged 19 to 39, are now eligible to vote in the upcoming federal election.

In his article, entitled Why my new political movement? Because Canada has been hijacked, Mr. Bernier stated,

“As I said when I resigned, I have come to the conclusion that the Conservative party cannot be reformed and that if I want to do politics differently, I need to do it elsewhere.

How do I plan to do this? By systematically reversing the dynamic described by public choice theory. That is, by taking positions based on principles I believe in and that accord with what I think is the public interest; and by resisting pressure from interest groups seeking favours, despite the short-term political cost.

I recognize this is a risky enterprise. It certainly explains why none of my caucus colleagues were interested in joining me. But the payoff for Canadians could be huge.

And what gives me hope is that with the Internet, it is now much easier and less costly to find relevant information and mobilize around an issue. A small group of motivated citizens can potentially have as much influence as a lobby group spending millions of dollars.

I know many Canadians are fed up with the traditional way of doing politics. We’ll see if enough of them are ready to follow me.

Vision for Confederation

Mr. Bernier hails from Quebec, but rather than following the tradition of pitting the East against the West, he seems genuinely interested in doing right for all Canadians, not just those in his home province, and seems unmoved by the possibility of angering a Francophone base.

In a speech given Thursday last week, Mr. Bernier outlined the failures of Confederation that are threatening the country's unity, highlighted by economic policy and consequence.  He proposes greater autonomy for the provinces in terms of taxation and delivery of public services such as education and healthcare, supports energy security and scrapping the carbon tax, and the end to an “equalization” transfer system as we know it that weakens the economy instead of strengthening it – a policy that has primarily benefited Quebec since its inception to detriment of economic engine provinces.

For a party that has accomplished so many significant milestones within five months, it will be interesting to watch its path unfold as it prepares for the autumn election and reveals its complete vision for all Canadians. Even more interesting to see will be whether the PPC can attract and harness a generation of young adults, many with young families and established careers, intent on contributing positively to society and searching for a vehicle that resonates with them to help them do so.