The decision by the Leaders’ Debate Commission is in and Bernier is out. Maxime Bernier, leader of the People’s Party of Canada (PPC), will not be part of the federal election debates on September 8 and 9, 2021. While this news will no doubt come as a relief to those of us who will watch the debates, the reality is that most of Bernier’s talking points will likely be covered by Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole anyway. 

Bernier may be a bust, but O’Toole is not so different.

In the 2019 federal election, Bernier barely managed to get 2 percent of the popular vote and did not win a single seat. Fast forward to 2021 and the latest Nanos poll shows that the PPC have failed to gain traction and remain at 2 percent in national support. Therefore, Bernier does not meet any of the criteria which includes: having at least one MP; having won 4 percent of the popular vote in 2019; and currently having at least 4 percent national support. While Bernier blames what he calls the “political establishment cartel,” the reality is that Canada already has a conservative party with a nearly identical platform. 

Both parties would target CBC for significant budget cuts and major restructuring. While the PPC makes a direct call to lower the number of immigrants coming into Canada and increase funding to CSIS and the RCMP to do background checks, the Conservatives want to weed out “bogus asylum claims,” strengthen border enforcement to prevent “illegal crossings,” and increase conditions on visitors. The PPC platform takes aim at any government restrictions on hate speech as an attack on freedom of speech, and says legal limitations on free speech are only justified if there is actual incitement to violence. The Conservative platform echoes this rhetoric. 

Their party objectives are fundamentally the same.

Their platforms jibe in other areas like supports for veterans, reducing corporate “bailouts” and subsidies, repealing or amending firearm legislation, and, of course, building more pipelines to increase oil and gas exports. The PPC would withdraw from the Paris Accord altogether, and the Conservatives promise to fight climate change but not “on the backs of working Canadians or by hurting the economy.”

The Conservatives will not let “critical” fossil fuel projects be held up by climate change, or First Nations—another area where the PPC and Conservatives sing in unison.

The PPC promise to streamline approvals for pipelines and attack any anti-pipeline narratives as “propaganda.” Conservatives agree, and would support the Trans Mountain Pipeline, Line 3 and Line 5 and create an LNG export strategy, while at the same time enacting legislation to repress environmental protests. O’Toole plans to do all this by focusing on political engagement with “Indigenous-led” businesses and organizations currently engaged in the extractive industry—versus working with First Nation governments, who are the actual rights-holders. Both parties would focus on consultation with Indigenous peoples versus obtaining their free, prior and informed consent for developments on their lands.

Though the Conservative platform is more detailed than the PPC, the same themes emerge across core issues—the only difference is its delivery. Bernier got himself arrested by the RCMP in Manitoba for violating public health orders at a rally against covid-19 restrictions. Whereas O’Toole has been seen on multiple occasions in public not wearing a mask or social distancing—most notably during a livestream event where he sat side-by-side with Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (who also wasn’t masked). Bernier and O’Toole both have been called out for making racist and inflammatory comments about racialized people. To characterize both men and their parties as similar would be an understatement.

After all, we must remember that Bernier came from the Conservative Party—and came within a whisker of becoming its leader.

Bernier may be easy to dismiss because of his in-your-face political antics which do not mesh with most Canadians’ values. However, the values underlying the PPC are not so different from the values espoused by the Conservatives—O’Toole is just less direct about his true intentions.

So, PPC fans, don’t worry. Bernier may have been booted from the debate, but he’ll be well represented by O’Toole.

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