Maxime Bernier‘s new political party, which plans to run candidates in every riding in the upcoming federal election, is calling for the end of “official” multiculturalism in Canada and the preservation of “Canadian values and culture.”
“In a free society, immigrants have the right to cherish and maintain their cultural heritage,” the platform states. “However, that doesn’t mean we have any obligation to help them preserve it, with government programs and taxpayers’ money.”
The campaign promise prompted strong reaction from Bernier’s opponents, including the Liberal government.
WATCH: People’s Party of Canada leader Bernier says Canadians demand lower immigration levels
“While some conservative politicians spread misinformation about or oppose immigration, multiculturalism and diversity in society, our government continues to stand up for what unites us as a country,” a spokesperson for Pablo Rodriguez, the minister responsible for multiculturalism, said in a statement.
Bernier, a Quebec MP, founded the PPC last year and will test the party’s message in a general election for the first time in October.
Thus far, the party has not met the criteria to participate in the leaders’ debates and its support levels are barely registering in opinion polls.
Jenny Kwan, the NDP’s critic for multiculturalism and immigration, said the multiculturalism platform is “absolutely shocking” and seemed like a page out of U.S. President Donald Trump’s playbook.
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She accused Bernier of highlighting the anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments that are occupying a larger space in mainstream public discourse in recent years. She said the Multiculturalism Act, which recognizes Canada as a nation of many cultures, is something to celebrate.
“Where else in the world can you go to a country where you can see the faces of the world, where we welcome and celebrate each other for who we are, the culture that we bring and the history that we bring to Canada,” she said.
Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said the PPC’s latest policy announcement was “appalling” and would be resoundingly rejected by Canadians.
“Any politics or policies that are kicked around an election campaign to give oxygen at all to hatreds, prejudices, biases, phobias of all kinds is not only unacceptable, it’s actually quite damaging to individuals whose family may feel themselves less safe,” she said.
WATCH: Andrew Scheer: ‘No room for intolerance, racism or extremism’ in Canada (May 28)
A representative for Andrew Scheer did not respond to requests for comment by publication, but the Conservative leader and some Tory MPs spoke out against Bernier’s views on multiculturalism while he was still a member of the party.
On Canadian Multicultural Day in June, Scheer issued a statement noting that it was a Progressive Conservative government that passed the Multiculturalism Act.
The PPC has been accused of attempting to court the alt-right and white nationalists with its stance on immigration and multiculturalism. When asked to respond to criticism that the multiculturalism policy is rooted in intolerance, a party spokesperson pointed to a speech Bernier gave last month.
“I don’t care one bit about people’s race or skin colour,” he said at a Mississauga, Ont., rally on immigration. “I have said many times that racists and bigots are not welcome in our party.”
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David Haskell, the People’s Party candidate for Cambridge, Ont., said the party has candidates from a diversity of backgrounds, something he accused most media outlets of ignoring.
The multiculturalism platform reflects the party’s emphasis on shared values across society, which he said are essential to social cohesion.
“What is surprising to me is that this is controversial,” he said.
Along those lines, the party is also proposing to assess newcomers’ values as part of the immigration process, an idea once floated by MP Kellie Leitch.
The 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act recognizes Canada’s multicultural history and character and promotes “the freedom of all members of Canadian society to preserve, enhance and share their cultural heritage.”
Among other things, it mandates that federal institutions provide Canadians of all origins with equal opportunity for employment and advancement.
WATCH: Then-Conservative MP Bernier slams Trudeau’s ‘extreme multiculturalism’ (Aug. 13, 2018)
Canada’s multiculturalism program, one of the ways in which the act is implemented, provides grants to organizations and supports public outreach on anti-racism through events such as Multiculturalism Day as well as Black History and Asian Heritage months.
More recent federal budgets have earmarked additional funds under the multiculturalism banner, including $19 million to grow community supports for black youth over three years, and $45 million for implementing a new federal strategy to fight racism.
The PPC platform claims Canada’s multiculturalism policy encourages new immigrants to keep the values and culture they “left behind” rather than integrate.
The party also accused the Trudeau government of embracing “extreme” multiculturalism.
A spokesperson for the Liberal Party said Friday that Justin Trudeau has been “a strong defender” of multiculturalism and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms throughout his life and career.
“He believes that Canada is strong not in spite of our differences, but because of them.”
Bernier, a former federal cabinet minister and 2017 Conservative leadership contender, founded the People’s Party after cutting ties with the Tories last year.
Polling from Ipsos released last month showed the party has captured about 1 per cent of popular support.
So far at the ballot box, its performance has been somewhat stronger. The PPC received nearly 11 per cent in the February byelection that saw NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh claim a seat in Burnaby-South, and 1.9 per cent in the Ontario riding of York-Simcoe.
WATCH: Analyzing Canada’s electoral landscape
A party spokesman said the PPC has roughly 40,000 members and 310 candidates in place out of 338 federal ridings.
The Canadian Press reported earlier this month that the Conservatives have nominated 323 candidates, the Liberals 230, the NDP 141 and the Greens have candidates in more than two thirds of ridings.
The People’s Party has already unveiled many of its platform planks on other issues.
It has already called for a significant reduction in the number immigrants Canada accepts each year, to a level of 100,000 to 150,000. The Liberal government announced plans to raise immigration to 350,000 per year by 2021.
Haskell said polls are showing Canadians want lower levels of immigration, and the PPC is the only party responding to that.
In a Leger poll last month, 63 per cent of respondents said they would prefer a federal government that makes limiting immigration levels a priority due to concerns that Canada may be “reaching our limit” to integrate newcomers.