The organization in charge of Canada‘s official leadership debates sent out invitations to the other party leaders last month but left Bernier off the list.
Debates commissioner David Johnston had until Monday to decide on whether to include Bernier.
Bernier has argued that not inviting him to take part in the debates was the commission’s way of excluding what he says is the only party who had anything different to say.
“It won’t be a real debate if I’m not there,” Bernier told candidates and supporters at his party’s first national conference in August.
“It will be a phony discussion where they attack each other on their superficial differences.”
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Bernier was asked to provide the commission with more information while his case was considered. He said he was confident Johnston would change his mind.
In a news release, Johnston said he is satisfied that the PPC has more than one candidate with a “reasonable chance to be elected.”
“With the benefit of more recent information, I am of the view that the PPC has attracted a significant number of party members, has established a notable presence in the media and on the political landscape and, based on recent polling data, has achieved a reasonable chance of success in more than one riding,” Johnston said.
“All of these factors together enable the PPC to satisfy two of the criteria established in our Order in Council.”
For a federal political party to be included in the official debates, it must satisfy two of the following three criteria:
- Whether the party is represented in the House of Commons by an MP who was an elected as a member of that party
- Whether a party intends to endorse candidates in at least 90 per cent of the country’s 338 ridings
- Whether a party as a “legitimate chance” of electing more than one MP, based on “recent political context, public opinion polls and previous general election results”
Johnston said he considered a wide range of evidence submitted both by the PPC and the other political parties.
Though the PPC has endorsed candidates in more than 90 per cent of the ridings, the party’s lone MP is Maxime Bernier, and he was elected as a Conservative before he left that party to found the PPC.
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Johnston then considered the third criteria — whether the party had a legitimate chance.
“I have examined whether the PPC has a legitimate chance of electing more than one candidate in the upcoming election and have concluded that the PPC does have more than one candidate endorsed by the party with a legitimate chance to be elected,” he wrote.
Johnston, the former governor-general, sent invitations last month to Liberal leader Justin Trudeau, Conservative leader Andrew Scheer, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, Green leader Elizabeth May, and Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet.
Bernier has represented the riding of Beauce, Que., federally since 2006.
The PPC, built on an agenda described by Bernier as “smart populism,” has announced a slew of candidates since the election took off.
He has dismissed his political rivals — including the Conservatives, with whom he served in Parliament for more than a decade — for adopting left-leaning views.
“While the other parties look at polls and focus groups to decide what they stand for, and pander to every special interest group, we follow our principles,” Bernier said.
News of Bernier’s inclusion in the debate was met with criticism from Singh.
“I think it’s wrong to give Mr. Bernier the platform to spread his hateful and divisive message,” the NDP leader told reporters.
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In an email statement, Scheer’s press secretary Daniel Schow wrote: “It’s no big surprise that Justin Trudeau’s hand-picked debate panel used a Liberal-friendly pollster who attacks Andrew Scheer to ultimately justify Mr. Bernier’s attendance at the debate.”
“Trudeau has been stacking the deck for months, using the power of his office to tilt the playing field in his favour for this election,” the statement added. “Mr. Scheer is looking forward to finally having the opportunity to debate Justin Trudeau about his secret plans to raise the carbon tax and tax home sales by as much as 50 per cent.”
The debates will be held on Oct. 7 and Oct. 10 in English and French, respectively.
— With files from the Canadian Press