Latest NewsLocalPolitics

Maxime Bernier rejects climate science and vaccinations. Will he get to do it at the leaders’ debates? – Toronto Star

People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier launches his campaign during a news conference at a hotel in Saint-Georges, Que. on Aug. 20, 2021.

credit logo

By Stephanie LevitzOttawa Bureau

Fri., Aug. 20, 20214 min. read

OTTAWA—Early on in election campaigns, federal political parties tend to brush off poll results, pointing to the old maxim that the only poll that matters is the one on election day.

Except, for Maxime Bernier, the early polls do matter: for him to participate in the official leaders’ debates during this campaign, his People’s Party of Canada needed to be registering four per cent support in national polls as of Aug. 20.

As in the 2019 campaign, Bernier is banking on being on that stage — but this time, he thinks people will listen to him differently.

“Before, when I was talking about freedom, people would say, ‘Maxime, what do you mean, freedom?’”, the former Conservative cabinet minister said in an interview with the Star.

“And now, they know. They have a big example in front of them every day of their life.”

Lockdowns, public-health orders and the debate about mandatory vaccinations have become Bernier’s political bread and butter during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are losing our freedoms and our rights,” he said.

“We cannot take for granted our freedoms in this country anymore.”

Whether that message has landed clearly enough for him to be invited to the debates will be a decision for the Leaders’ Debates Commission.

It will decide using three criteria, two of which Bernier doesn’t meet: he’s not an elected member of Parliament, nor did his party get at least four per cent of the votes in the last election.

The third criterion is support in national polls. The commission will review two weeks’ worth of data to see if enough Canadians answered yes when they were asked explicitly if they’d support the People’s Party.

Its decision is expected Saturday.

Polls suggest support for the party is currently at somewhere between two and five per cent.

Bernier made it onto the debate stage by the skin of his teeth in 2019, convincing the commission he’d met the required two out of three criteria in place back then: he was running candidates in 90 per cent of ridings, and his party had a “legitimate” chance of electing MPs.

A subsequent discussion over the meaning of the word “legitimate” led to much more detailed criteria for this campaign’s debates, which are scheduled for Sept. 8 and 9.

Bernier was a Conservative member of Parliament for Beauce from 2006 to 2018, and served in cabinet under prime minister Stephen Harper.

After Harper stepped down, Bernier came within a whisker of beating Andrew Scheer in the Conservatives’ 2017 leadership race.

Although he tried to be a team player for a time, Bernier soon quit the Conservatives to launch his own party, a right-wing populist organization he promised would put people’s freedom at its heart.

Bernier built his new party as the U.S. was grappling with the aftermath of a right-wing populist uprising that propelled Donald Trump to the White House, leading to accusations he was seeking to capitalize on the political ideas spilling across the border to build a more extreme political movement than he’d originally suggested.

Some founding members quit over arguments about the party’s policies, but Bernier has steadfastly denied intolerance within the People’s Party’s ranks. He even launched a defamation lawsuit against a political commentator on that subject. It remains before the courts.

In this campaign, he’s running on a platform that’s largely the same as it was in 2019 — proof, he says, of his commitment to his values.

Among other things, he wants to bring down or eliminate certain tax rates, drastically reduce immigration levels, and hand power and funding responsibility for health care entirely to the provinces. His party doesn’t have a strategy for dealing with climate change, which it claims — contrary to the overwhelming scientific consensus — is occurring naturally. Bernier says government intervention on climate is both costly and pointless.

Bernier has also chosen not to get vaccinated against COVID-19, and rejects the expert consensus in support of lockdowns and other public health measures.

He was arrested in Manitoba for allegedly violating public health orders. And although he labelled other politicians hypocrites for travelling last winter while governments were urging Canadians to stay at home, he happily took his own trip to Florida, noting he’d never called for a travel ban himself.

It’s positions like those that should disqualify him from taking part in the leaders’ debates, the New Democratic Party argues.

“M. Bernier has the right to hold these views and express them and can choose to not be vaccinated,” NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh wrote in a recent letter to the debates’ commission.

“However, allowing him a national televised platform to spread misinformation about COVID-19 and vaccination is simply not acceptable.”

Bernier says that what’s not acceptable to him is the extent to which those who voice their concerns are silenced, and that vaccinations are being used to divide the country into two classes of citizens.

An unprecedented intrusion into people’s lives by the government during this pandemic will never end if people don’t speak up, he said, calling words the best weapons for a revolution.

With 320 candidates nominated so far, he hopes to spread those words far and wide.


Anyone can read Conversations, but to contribute, you should be registered Torstar account holder. If you do not yet have a Torstar account, you can create one now (it is free)

Sign In


Conversations are opinions of our readers and are subject to the

Code of Conduct. The Star does not endorse these opinions.