The People’s Party of Canada walked away from another federal election without a seat, but the growth of the party’s popularity since the 2019 election is undeniable. That has some Black, Indigenous and people of colour feeling a level of concern about how vitriolic discussions involving race will be moving forward.
“Is this a flash in the pan moment for the PPC or is this something that they’re going to build upon? My fear is that it’s probably the latter,” said Jaskaran Sandhu, a strategist with State Strategy.
In the 2019 election, the PPC and its leader Maxime Bernier barely registered in the final vote count. But the party’s vote share has grown, from 292,703 votes and 1.6 per cent of the total in 2019 to 833,372 votes (and counting) representing a 5.1 per cent of the 2021 election. Bernier had represented the riding of Beauce in Quebec until the 2019 election. He failed to win again in 2021.
The party started in 2019 after Bernier left the Conservative Party of Canada, where he was thought to be a possible successor to former prime minister Stephen Harper following the Tories’ 2015 election loss. Party members instead voted for Andrew Scheer, and a few months later, Bernier resigned and launched the PPC.
Global News contacted the People’s Party of Canada to talk about concerns from Henderson and other BIPOC Canadians, but the party declined a request for an interview.
“We don’t answer slanted questions from leftist idiots masquerading as journalists. Get lost,” wrote a PPC spokesperson in response to a Global News inquiry.
The growth of the PPC is alarming to Joy Henderson, but not unexpected The Black Lakota woman, who lives in Scarborough, saw her ridings in her area littered with the party’s signs.
“I’m not surprised,” Henderson said. ”We live in a colonial project known as Canada. It’s stolen land.”
One of Bernier’s main talking points has been his desire to stop “mass immigration.” When addressing immigration in its platform, the PPC notes immigration should not “forcibly change the cultural character and social fabric of our country.” Bernier proposed to slash the current immigration goals of allowing 400,000 people into the country to between 100,000 and 150,000, with a greater focus on skilled immigrants.
Moreover, the party wants to limit the legal meaning of hate speech by “restrict(ing) the definition” and would repeal M-103, better known as the anti-Islamophobia motion.
The motion — which is not a law and does not impose any restrictions — calls for acknowledgement “to quell the increasing public climate of hate and fear” and “condemn Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”
To Henderson, the fact the party has a few dozen BIPOC candidates from different religions is not enough, when its platform has elements of what she calls xenophobic. The PPC does not provide the data and denied a request to engage with Global News.
The party, in effect, would make potential immigrants go through a process to see if they align with “Canadian values and societal norms,” which they don’t provide any information on, limit the number of temporary foreign workers so they “do not compete unfairly with Canadian workers,” cutoff migrant flow from the U.S. by building a fence, and accept fewer refugees and make resettlement a private venture.
“Just because there is this Brown or Black person, this Indigenous person, (it) doesn’t mean that the party is not racist,” Henderson said. “It goes beyond one person.”
The party’s Brampton East candidate, Manjeet Singh, did speak with Global News. Singh said that he joined the party because he wanted the government not to make policies based on race, but instead be “colourblind.” His major reason for aligning with the PPC was because he felt the government was creating divisions.
“More and more, people are being categorized based on how they look, the kind of background they had,” Singh said.
When asked multiple times if systemic racism or discrimination exists within Canada, Singh, an immigrant, did not answer clearly.
“It depends on who you talk to. People may have different experiences,” he said.
Singh said the government should not be making any race-based policies, insisting that hiring should not come with diversity targets. He added that he has never faced racism in Canada.
Should the PPC be platformed?
Days before the election, leader Maxime Bernier appeared on a podcast called the ‘Plaid Army’ which has been described as “anti-Semitic and racist” by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network.
The party also ran a candidate who was a former member of the Plaid Army.
The man allegedly behind the gravel attack against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was identified as Shane Marshall, a PPC riding director who was fired following the incident. Marshall was reported as running multiple white supremacist social media accounts.
As reported by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, multiple failed PPC candidates also participated in a white supremacist conference in Ottawa on June 30, 2021. Even on election night, prominent white supremacist, Nick Fuentes appeared on the same livestream as PPC candidate Chelsea Hillier.
Even though they have ties to alleged white supremacists, Henderson said she’s “not afraid” of the PPC, but calls it an “irritation.” She noted that she’s seen a lot of white progressives make fun of Bernier for not winning his seat, but admits there is real concern amongst BIPOC communities about how much attention is given to the PPC.
“There’s discomfort, there’s also anger,” Henderson said. “Who are you to dictate? You are colonizers, (so) as an indigenous person, as a Black person, I’m infuriated that they have a platform.”
“I don’t think they should be given a platform as a serious party.”
When Singh was asked about the party’s affiliations with white supremacists, he said he was not entirely aware of all of these incidents and had not looked into them further.
“I’ve heard about these and I have not I have not seen anything with my life,” he said.
While Henderson is against platforming the PPC, Sandhu said given the poll numbers and performance of the party, the media “can’t just ignore it.”
“There is a constituency that Maxime Bernier speaks to,” Sandhu said. “The media does have a duty to cover the story.”
Apart from Singh, Global News asked to interview several other PPC supporters and party organizers, but they declined to speak.
He added that he believes the PPC shows the hatred and racism that exists within Canada, and that BIPOC people are aware of, but that the rest of Canada can sometimes turn a blind eye to.
Over a four-year span from 2016 to 2020, police-reported hate crimes have nearly doubled, according to data available from Statistics Canada. In 2016, there were 1,409 reports and that number has since escalated to 2,669, with majority of the hate-crimes being based off race and ethnicity.
For Sandhu, there is still hesitancy around Bernier being given a platform after he participated in a rally against COVID-19 vaccines, while also speaking out against mask mandates and vaccine passports. He added that he believes Bernier had failed to keep xenophobia out of the PPC adding that there is concern of giving him a microphone and allowing him to shout into it without much pushback.
“If he becomes a voice that’s given a lot of mainstream press — disproportionate mainstream press — he can use that to kind of propagate his messages further,” he said.
Sandhu thinks there needs to be more direct language used to describe the PPC, adding that “this is a party that does attract racists, it is a party that attracts white supremacists.” He thinks that qualifiers should be used to define the PPC, and that its anti-immigration and troubling aspects should consistently be highlighted.
“The issue becomes when the media lends credibility or softens the imaging around what Maxime Bernier’s message is,” said Sandhu.
It’s unclear how things will play out with Bernier and the PPC moving forward, especially if the pandemic ends, causing the anti-vax movement to slow down. Sandhu thinks the base of the PPC will remain entrenched in social and cultural wars.
“Having policies on fighting racism and discrimination will be incredibly important,” Sandhu said.