‘I’m not radical’: Maxime Bernier tries to distance himself from fringe voices
Controversial professor and climate change denier among those who support Bernier
January 19, 2019, 8:31 pm ASTLast Updated: January 21, 2019, 3:55 pm
A pipeline of supporters stretched through the lobby of the Atlantica Hotel in Halifax on Friday night at a rally for the People’s Party of Canada.
One man wore a reflective vest and said he supports the yellow vest movement that has come to symbolize the far-right. Another had a tattoo reading Never Surrender on his bald scalp.
But the party said these supporters are anomalies.
“Most people, when you talk to them, they’re centrist kind of people,” said Matthew Arsenault, president of the Halifax-Sable Electoral District Association for the People’s Party.
Leading up to the federal election in the fall, the People’s Party is trying to distance itself from far-right and fringe voices. After serving as a cabinet minister under Stephen Harper, Maxime Bernier lost the leadership race for the Progressive Conservative Party in 2017. He formed the People’s Party five months ago, and he said he has 34,000 members across Canada.
Part of a national tour, the Friday event in Halifax was Bernier’s first rally in Nova Scotia. He explained his plans to build the Energy East Pipeline, reduce immigration and said, “yes, we’re going to cut the CBC.”
A crowd of 288 people included a refugee and a recent business graduate who voted Liberal in the last election. They sat among a man who denies climate change, as well as former Acadia University professor Rick Mehta. Mehta was fired in August in part for harassing students and colleagues and targeting racial minorities and other groups, according to a letter from the university obtained by the CBC.
“The People’s Party of Canada seems to be the one that’s most consistent with my values,” Mehta said.
The party has tried to distance itself from people like Mehta, who considers himself a “founding member.” Arsenault says the party gave the title of “founding member” to anyone who joined the party before Nov. 30.
“If he doesn’t sit on an (Electoral District Association) or is elected as a candidate, he doesn’t have a voice for the People’s Party of Canada,” said Arsenault, when asked about Mehta’s involvement.
Siou Desveaux, a refugee who arrived from Laos during the Pierre Trudeau era, is married to the party’s executive director.
“I like (Bernier’s) ideas: lower taxes, especially for families where (we want to see) our grocery bills stay the same,” Desveaux said.
Standing on a platform, Bernier called for Canada to reduce foreign aid, but still provide disaster relief. He said he would reduce immigration, but still accept 250,000 newcomers per year.
“I’m not radical,” he said. He argued more Canadians want to reduce immigration not increase it, as the Liberal government has done.
“So who’s the radical, Maxime Bernier or Justin Trudeau?” Bernier asked the crowd.
One supporter, Neil Stanton, lauded Bernier’s plan to eliminate carbon tax.
“Global warming’s bullshit,” said Stanton. “It’s not an anti-science thing.” Rather, he said, scientists are using the wrong data.
Another attendee, Catherine Ahern, is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States who voted for Donald Trump.
“I’m very happy about it,” Ahern said of her vote. “I think he’s unfairly treated here in Canada … there’s a lot of immigration here and I don’t like it.”
Fed up with federal control, Bernier said he would create free trade between provinces. He paid homage to former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, calling her “a real tough free market lady.”
A donation booth was set up at the back of the rally. Bernier said the party has raised a total of $650,000 across the country, but he won’t spend any of it on trivialities.
“You know what was the cost of our logo?” Bernier asked the crowd. “Ten bucks.”
Video by Colin Bullard
Editor's Note: Video was added to the piece on Jan. 21, 2019, after the story was first published.