Canada needs to reckon with the People’s Party.
Far-right. Fringe. Toxic. The party won five per cent of the vote share in the 44th general election with more than 820,000 ballots cast for it. It won no seats but grew its support.
The People’s Party of Canada has become a rallying point for extremists who existed before it did, but who now have an organizational anchor and home. That is troubling.
Writing in Maclean’s, Pam Palmater points out Monday’s returns “reveal a growing threat to public safety that has been largely unaddressed — the rise of far-right groups who have used the stress and uncertainty of the pandemic to gain support.” She notes such threats are particularly troubling for “Black, Indigenous, and racialized people and women.”
She’s right. The Anti-Hate Network has tracked some incidents and trends that ought to have everyone concerned. Plus, as the Globe and Mail’s Tom Cardoso reports, certain online groups are home to individuals spreading misinformation and hate, urging PPC support. After failing to win a seat, PPC supporters falsely and baselessly claimed that the election was “rigged.” This narrative will play into the party’s culture of alienation and resentment, encouraging more of the same.
Seat or no seat, who is voting for the People’s Party and where do they come from? Pollster Darrell Bricker points out there was no purple wave on election night, no shy PPC supporter evading pollsters or lying about their voting intent. He says the party’s support was consistent throughout the election. That indicates a pre-existing base, small so far but of concern, and up over the 2019 lot.
Poll analyst Éric Grenier broke down party popular vote change across provinces. Based on results as of Sept. 21, before mail-in ballots were counted, the PPC grew by six points in Manitoba, five points in Saskatchewan, 5.3 points in Alberta, just over 4.3 points in New Brunswick, and four points in Ontario. The party was up in every province — the only party to manage that feat.
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Ahead of the election, Grenier pointed out the PPC is new and its voter coalition is, too. But we have some sense of who the party’s supporters tend to be. Grenier points to a Forum Research poll that found the party home to supporters who were anti-vax, climate change deniers, anti-abortion, Trump-loving, and pro-gun. And angry. Not a good combination.
Looking at the PPC through an electoral lens, Grenier argued that you can’t simply assume a PPC vote would have otherwise been a Conservative Party vote. He cites Abacus Data findings from September that show “about 60% of PPC supporters voted for the Conservatives or PPC in the last election, roughly split down the middle. Another one-fifth did not vote in 2019 — either because they were too young or just didn’t turn out — while the rest voted for the Liberals (about half of the remainder), the NDP, Greens or Bloc Québécois.”
So, the PPC is a drag on the Conservative Party, but neither exclusively nor as much as you might assume. Still, the party likely cost the Conservatives some wins. As Rachel Emmanuel writes for iPolitics, looking at ridings with close margins in which the PPC vote was higher than the difference between the winning candidate and the second-place finisher Conservative yields several candidates for PPC spoiler races. Incidentally, the 2019 election produced a similar story.
The fact is that in a first-past-the-post system, small shifts in the vote can have significant impacts, especially when margins are narrow, as they often are, but without concentrated support, it’s hard for parties to return seats. The electoral PPC effect seems real, but nowhere near enough to cost the Tories the election. The Conservatives have bigger problems, namely: the Liberals and their own incapacity to break through in Ontario, especially in the Greater Toronto Area.
The essential question to ask about the PPC isn’t whether it cost the Conservatives votes and seats — yes and probably. The essential questions to ask about the PPC are what sort of behaviour the party is enabling, what sort of people is it organizing and coordinating, and what that means for the country’s political ecosystem and those who live in it.
When angry, distrustful, disaffected, hateful people rally together, you can expect trouble. It’s therefore incumbent on us to assess the far-right movement, refuse to normalize it, track it closely, and work to neutralize it.
David Moscrop is a contributing columnist to the Washington Post and the author of “Too Dumb for Democracy? Why We Make Bad Political Decisions and How We Can Make Better Ones.”