NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said in a letter Tuesday that he is “troubled” that People’s Party of Canada (PPC) Leader Maxime Bernier has been invited to participate in the leaders’ debate and called on debates commissioner David Johnston to reconsider his decision.
“I am troubled by your decision to allow the leader of the People’s Party of Canada in the debates,” the letter reads. “It is wrong that Mr. Bernier be given a platform to promote an ideology of hate that spreads prejudice and disinformation.”
The letter comes a day after it was announced Bernier would be invited to participate in Canada’s official leadership debates in October.
Singh claims Bernier should not be allowed to participate in the debates because he has “courted racists to run for his party,” “frequently promotes damaging conspiracy theories” on social media and has been photographed with “far-right hate groups with neo-Nazi ties.”
“These are not the actions of a person who has earned the privilege of promoting their agenda on a national stage,” Singh wrote.
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Bernier was not invited to the debates when the commission sent the first invites to party leaders in August.
However, Bernier argued that not inviting him to take part was the commission’s way of excluding his party, which he says is the only one that has anything different to say.
“It won’t be a real debate if I’m not there,” he told candidates and supporters at his party’s first national conference in August.
“It will be a phoney discussion where they attack each other on their superficial differences.”
According to the Leaders’ Debate Commission, 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 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 has a “legitimate chance” of electing more than one MP, based on “recent political context, public opinion polls and previous general election results.”
According to the press release, when the initial invitations were sent in August, the PPC satisfied only one criterion.
“At that time in the electoral cycle, and with the evidence then available, the Commissioner did not consider that the PPC had a legitimate chance to elect more than one candidate,” the release reads. “The Commission indicated this was a preliminary assessment and that it would seek further information.”
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However, in a news release issued Monday, Johnston said he was “satisfied that more than one candidate endorsed by the party has 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 in the release.
In the letter, Singh said he disagrees with Johnston’s findings, saying “most informed political analysts believe his party is unlikely to gain seats in this election.”
Singh also urges Johnston to reconsider his decision.
“Canadians deserve to hear an open political debate between different points of view,” he wrote. “They are not well served by a debate that instead needs to spend its time defending values that are already at the core of what Canadians believe.”
In an email to Global News, a spokesperson for the PPC said Singh’s “false opinions and slanders” regarding the party have “no bearing on the Commission’s criteria to determine who is invited in the debates and are therefore irrelevant.”
Speaking at an event in St. John’s, N.L., on Tuesday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said he looks forward to holding Bernier to account publicly for what he says are his “intolerant views.”
“And I certainly hope all of the leaders will do the same,” Trudeau said.
At an event in Winnipeg on Tuesday, Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer said he will debate “anybody who is ready to be the prime minister.”
In an emailed statement from the Green Party, a spokesperson confirmed that “Ms. May said, ‘He met the criteria. I welcome him to the debate!'”
— With files from Rachael D’Amore