The PPC: Shaking up Canadian Politics
As the saying attributed to both George Bernard Shaw and Oscar Wilde goes: “England and America are two countries separated by the same language.” By contrast, Canada is one country separated by two different languages, and when it comes to federal elections, the vote is often split along those lines. Recently, federal political developments have created a new opportunity to exacerbate these differences.
As of September 2018, Canada has a new political party: The People’s Party of Canada (PPC). Maxime Bernier, its founder, is a Québécois politician and former member of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC). Bernier decided to resign from the CPC as a result of policy differences ranging from multiculturalism to retaliatory tariffs. Following the 13 rounds of the Conservative Party leadership election in May 2017, Bernier came in second place by 1.9%: he found the CPC to be irreparable, and that the only way to rectify these issues was to create a new party entirely. His new party advocates for “individual freedom, personal responsibility, fairness and respect,” and Bernier fully intends to run for prime minister come the 2019 election.
Now, let’s examine the similarities between this situation and what happened in 1993. The Bloc Québécois (BQ) is a federal political party that formed just two years prior in 1991, and it fervently advocated for Québec sovereignty. Following the 1993 general election, this fledgling party became the Official Opposition to the Liberal Party. Interestingly, the BQ won the second most seats in the Canadian House of Commons, despite only running in the province of Québec. These events in 1993 set a precedent for the possibility of identity-driven parties to shock the nation and win seats more quickly than anyone anticipated.
The PPC formed in September and has 13 months or fewer to organize nationally and place representatives in several dozens of ridings (electoral districts) across Canada. Matching the success of the BQ in 1993 would be an ambitious goal, one that Bernier is determined to reach. Keeping in mind the precedent set in the election of 1993, other major parties should recognize Bernier’s drive for success as a potential threat to their own support. After all, just two years after its inception, the BQ polled at approximately 12%, and by election time, the nation was shocked by BQ’s popularity in Québec as they garnered nearly half of the provincial vote—or 13% nationally.
According to the CBC, Canada’s major political parties are currently polling as follows: the Liberal and Conservative Parties are both in the upper 30s, the Liberals enjoying a slight edge; the New Democratic Party (NDP) is steadily in the mid-teens; and the PPC is at about one percent. The PPC has a year to gain around 15% in national support to be competitive for Official Opposition status, but far less than that would be enough to make shockwaves nationwide. The current popularity doesn’t look very promising for them right now, but after just two months of existence, not much popularity could be expected. If Bernier can motivate Québécois voters to join his party while also appealing to the Conservative base, 15% is certainly attainable. But in order to achieve this, the PPC must strike the difficult balance of supporting the interests of Québec on a national scale without alienating English Canada.
But why care about Bernier’s new party? The context, policies, history of the candidate, and the potential consequences are important points to investigate. Contextually, this is amidst a new America with populist sentiments expressed in the current administration, sentiments that risk crossing Canada’s southern border. There are fears that racists and xenophobes will flock to Bernier’s party, since Bernier represents a sector of Canada disillusioned by the social and economic state of the nation. Furthermore, the interests of Québec are often in direct opposition to those of the rest of Canada, and Québécois interests often pose imbalances that favor their one province over the nine others.
The PPC’s policies are in direct contrast to those of the mainstream Liberal and Conservative Parties. Bernier advocates for moderate privatization of health care, feeling that a mixed system is more beneficial than the 70% publicly funded system Canada currently has. He values a homogenous nation over a diverse one, arguing in a tweet that diversity breeds “distrust, social conflict, and potentially violence,” and that restricted immigration is best. Canadian gun rights are also a key issue for the PPC, rights which he feels have been abused and must be reformed.
Canadians know the candidate, Maxime Bernier, to be an interesting character. He has made statements supporting Québec separatism in the past, referring to himself as a “very nationalist Quebecer” and that this “was part of my past and I’m proud of it.” He worked for the Parti Québécois—the provincial separatist party—several years ago. The nation has been healing since the two referenda in the 1990s that very narrowly avoided Québec independence, so having a Quebecer that is sympathetic to separatists could further divide the nation across cultural and linguistic lines. Moreover, Québec is notoriously one of the more socially and fiscally conservative provinces in Canada, and Bernier could certainly use the leanings of his home province to his advantage in order to bolster his support.
The consequences of Bernier’s popularity could have effects on all major Canadian parties. The PPC has the potential to splinter the Conservative vote, since Andrew Scheer, the current leader of the Conservative Party, has not shown himself to be a promising candidate. Bernier could galvanize a base of conservatives that feel that his new party represents the interests of the Conservative base much better. There is nearly no chance of Bernier winning the prime ministership, but if his party gains enough traction, Official Opposition status is certainly possible, which comes with parliamentary perks that could push his agenda even further into the national discussion. According to Abacus, 13% of voters intend to vote for the PPC, half of whom would have voted for the CPC otherwise.
The PPC could affect economic and social policies from trade and tariffs with America, to relations with First Nations communities in Alberta. Many Canadians find it horrifying and worrisome to watch this populist, reactionary party start to gain traction nationwide, but there is still a year before the election: a year for this party to stagnate, grow, or collapse. This saga has just begun, but only time will tell whether Bernier will be a Ross Perot in 1992, splitting the conservative vote and costing the major party the election, or a Teddy Roosevelt in 1912, leading a third party to a historic performance in a national election.