Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada, has lost his riding of Beauce, Quebec to Conservative candidate Richard Lehoux. Bernier had described the PPC as the newest and fastest-growing federal party in the country, although his loss could sound its death knell.
“I accept with humility and I want to congratulate the new member,” Bernier said in a concession speech on Monday evening. “This is only the beginning for the People’s Party of Canada.”
The PPC, formed in 2018 after Bernier lost his Conservative Party leadership bid by a narrow margin to current leader Andrew Scheer, has garnered low national polling numbers, hovering around two per cent. The party ran more than 300 candidates during this election.
Though Bernier has been beloved in the Beauce since he was first elected under the Conservative banner in 2006, this election was a true test of whether his constituents were truly loyal to him or to the Conservative Party.
Members of the PPC have faced accusations of espousing racist, anti-immigrant sentiment, and some of the party’s initial supporters have ties to a U.S. neo-Nazi group, and far-right groups Soldiers of Odin and Pegida Canada.
Bernier previously won the riding of more than 100,000 people in 2015 by 36 per cent of the vote.
Bernier’s father, Gilles, had also been an MP for Beauce from 1984 until 1997, first as a Conservative then briefly as an independent.
The riding went Liberal after that until Bernier won in 2006.
Through the course of this campaign, polls showed Bernier running nearly neck-and-neck with Conservative candidate Richard Lehoux, a fourth-generation dairy farmer and former mayor in the area.
Beauce, south of Quebec City, is a riding comprised of several municipalities that stretches to the border with Maine.
READ MORE: The battle for Maxime Bernier’s riding
While Bernier’s campaign promises have included capping rates of immigration, Lehoux has said that he and his party embrace immigration.
“In every major town and city in Beauce, you’ll find ’we’re hiring’ signs,” Lehoux previously told Global News. “It’s important to have balanced immigration legislation and improve access to employment for retired persons to combat this labour shortage.”
Over the weekend, the Globe and Mail reported that consulting firm Daisy Group was hired by an unnamed client to launch a “seek and destroy” campaign against Bernier and his party.
The overall goal of the initiative, dubbed “Project Cactus,” was to make the Conservative Party look better to voters, according to the report, by emphasizing alleged homophobic, xenophobic, racist statements made by PPC candidates and supporters.
Warren Kinsella, the political strategist who runs Daisy Group, would neither confirm nor deny that his firm was behind the project, but said that his firm has worked on anti-racism efforts.
Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer has repeatedly denied that his party was the client that hired Daisy Group to carry out the initiative.
“As a rule, we never make comments on vendors that we may or may not have engaged with,” Scheer told reporters.
Bernier slammed the effort and said that he had filed a complaint to the Commissioner of Canada Elections, which enforces federal election laws.
“This is the kind of dirty politics that fuels Canadians’ cynicism about politics,” Bernier said at a news conference.