VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It’s an ambitious move: the People’s Party is running hundreds of candidates in the first federal election since the party formed just over a year ago.
However, despite the fledgling fringe party having hundreds of candidates across the country — in every province and territory except Prince Edward Island and Nunavut — UBC political scientist Richard Johnston says it’s unlikely any PPC candidates will win a seat.
Except, perhaps, for the party’s leader.
“I don’t think they’re going to do terribly well. Maxime Bernier probably will hold on to his seat. Beyond that, I’m not so sure. I also don’t think that on balance, they’re going to be as disruptive a force as some people fear they might be,” he says.
Nor will the party be much of a thorn in the side of the Conservative Party, he adds.
The PPC has been hovering at around two per cent support nationally in the weeks leading up to the election. The areas where the party has more support, however, are already Conservative strongholds. Drawing support from that party’s base enough to split right-leaning votes is unlikely, Johnston says.
“When you look at where they’re hitting their maximums, it’s basically in Alberta and Saskatchewan, probably the interior of B.C. So these are places where the culture is more Conservative, and where anti-immigrant attitudes tend to be strongest. But they’re also places where the Conservative Party has, generally speaking, very comfortable majorities. And so if they give up a few votes, they’re probably not going to give up any of those seats.”
From libertarianism to anti-immigration
Chad Hudson, a former PPC candidate, recently dropped out of the running in the Nova Scotia riding of West Nova. He says the party’s libertarianism and fiscal conservatism values are what initially drew him in, but the “racist elements” drove him out.
“I was assured by the party that a lot of those things that I was concerned about — being the more extreme elements of the parties, some of the racist elements, some of the more far right elements — weren’t going to be a problem, that those elements had been purged from the party,” he says.
But over time, he says a xenophobic and anti-immigrant sentiment has become prominent.
Johnston says that’s the message getting through to the grassroots.
“It is generally the case that simpler messages, often involving scapegoating, just tend to have more traction and more penetration,” he says. “And to the extent that there’s going to be voters responding to the People’s Party, it’s going to be people who are currently in the Conservative cap, but unhappy with the generally moderate presentation that Andrew Scheer is trying to produce.”
In B.C., including Metro Vancouver, where many people are immigrants, Johnston says that message isn’t going to go over well.
“The people who are potential Conservative voters in the Lower Mainland are often people of color, of immigrant or minority background, and they’re not going to be particularly drawn to a party whose primary appeal is a kind of anti-immigrant, anti-minority sentiment.”
Populism may be on the rise in Canada
While the PPC’s chances at securing more than one seat are slim, its populist and anti-immigrant undertones may be more popular than the polls indicate.
A public opinion survey out of Simon Fraser University this summer found a decline in trust in Canada’s democracy, and that a populist message may strike a chord with some.
“Some of the race-based populism that we’ve seen emerge in other countries is starting to appear here in Canada. So one-in-three Canadians don’t think that foreign-born Canadians should have the same say in government as Canadians that were born here,” says Shauna Sylvester with SFU.
The survey also found one-in-four Canadians believe that minorities have too many supports and protections, and that there is too much support for religious freedom.
“I think that during election time, certain narratives get exacerbated, and you’re seeing anti-immigrant sentiments being expressed by certain political parties, and it’s important to pay attention to that,” she says.
Overall, however, she says she doesn’t think these messages will be attractive to most Canadians.
“The information of the research indicates that some of the messaging that has come out from parties that are advancing anti-immigration stance or advancing a Canada-first stance will resonate with some portion of the population,” Sylvester says. “Thankfully, that’s a small portion of the population, because I think that those are sentiments that go against a lot of the Canadian values on democracy.”