People's Party banking on debate participation to get attention: Bernier
TORONTO -- The leader of the fledgling People's Party of Canada, Maxime Bernier, says public awareness of the party is still low and he is banking on appearing in the official leaders' debates to garner attention in this election campaign.
Launching his campaign in Toronto, Bernier said that the party's strategy to connect with voters involves travelling across Canada, knocking on doors, speaking to local newspapers and communicating via social media.
"But the most important is the participation to the national debate," Bernier said on Wednesday, the first day of the campaign ahead of the Oct. 21 vote.
He said he's "optimistic" that an imminent decision by the Leaders' Debates Commission on whether he can participate in the one English- and one French-language debate in October will be in his favour.
"It is very important for us. I still believe that we will be there. We are a real political movement ... and they cannot say no to us."
Bernier was at the campaign office of one of his star candidates, Renata Ford, the widow of former Toronto mayor Rob Ford and sister-in-law to Ontario Premier Doug Ford.
Polls suggest the Liberals and Conservatives are in a close race for the most seats in the House of Commons, while the NDP and the Greens are fighting for third place.
Bernier launched the People's Party of Canada in September last year after breaking from the Conservatives, and it was officially recognized by Elections Canada in January.
The Quebec MP sat with the Conservatives for a dozen years, including serving in cabinet. He came in second in the Tories' 2017 leadership vote, and this is Bernier's first campaign as a party leader.
He called his party as a "principled alternative" to the other parties but acknowledged that many voters are still unaware that there is another option, roughly a year since the party's inception.
"A lot of Canadians don't know us, and don't know me, and that's a challenge ... That's why it's so important to participate in the national debates," he said.
The Leaders' Debates Commission excluded Bernier, after the party did not meet the requirement of proving it had multiple candidates with a "legitimate chance" of winning their seats. The party had until Sept. 9 to provide other evidence for why Bernier should be included.
Ford is one of the party's more recognizable candidates and she's running in the riding of Etobicoke North, where Rob Ford was a city councillor and Doug Ford is the MPP. Hung on the walls of her campaign office were several pieces of memorabilia from the late mayor's time in office.
Ford told reporters it was "destiny" for her to be supporting Bernier in this federal election.
"He wants what's best for Canadians, the Canadian people, the Canadian economy ... I want to introduce him to Rob's people," she said. "Rob would have supported Bernier."
Bernier on reiterated some of the party's positions, including substantially lowering the number of immigrants and refugees Canada accepts each year from 350,000 to between 100,000 and 150,000.
He also said that there is "no climate emergency" and that human activity is not the main cause of climate change.
"We're a real national party with something to say," he said. "And we're a voice for Canadians that wants to have pipelines, that want to have lower tax, that want to have a discussion on immigration."
Campaign volunteer Genevieve James, who was nodding her head and saying "yes" in response to many of Bernier's comments, said she was drawn by the party's "fresh voice."
The 57-year-old stay-at-home mom, who lives in Etobicoke North, said Canada has to "calm down" immigration, and that there is a limit to how many people the country can accept.
Although her family immigrated from Trinidad and Tobago 50 years ago, James said she believes immigrants are coming from the "wrong" countries, such as "Islamic countries."
"They've come to take the values of the country," she said.
The party has 318 candidates now and will reach a "full slate" of 338 in the coming days, Bernier said.
He does not plan to put any controls on candidates and their freedom to voice their opinions, but acknowledged there is the risk they may misstep.
"All our candidates share our values and our platform ... They have the right to express their point of view."