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People’s Party gains are bad news

John Bell

September 21, 2021

As the dust settles only one party can honestly claim success in the 2021 election, the party that did not win a single seat in parliament.

The People’s Party of Canada scored about 5% support across the country. It did even better in some regions. In Southern Ontario it tallied about 6%, and did well across the Atlantic region. Across the board it tripled the support it won in 2019 ending with more than 825,000 votes.

It could have been worse. Before the election, opinion polls had the PPC at about 8% support nationally, and up to 20% in some Alberta ridings. If those numbers had translated into votes PPC leader Maxime Bernier would be boasting a few new MPs. More than a half-million people voted for the party that opposes public health in the midst of a pandemic, would eliminate public services, opposes Indigenous reconciliation, would eliminate multi-culturalism, and blames problems on immigrants.

As it played out, a lot of those voters returned to their previous home in the Conservative Party, as the best chance to defeat the hated Trudeau. On the eve of the election, the Toronto Sun and other PostMedia papers featured a plea from Tory apparatchik Brian Lilley, appealing to PPC supporters to vote strategically for Erin O’Toole. 

Enough PPC voters ignored that advice to hurt O’Toole’s seat count. CBC analysts suggest that splitting the right-wing vote may have cost the Tories as many as 24 seats. But a closer look suggests that the PPC did not steal many votes from the Conservatives. They are the one party able to mobilize people who didn’t vote last time, people who think that the CPC is not far enough to the right.

When they talk about the PPC, media pundits usually portray it as just a COVID protest party. They don’t refer to the racism never far beneath the surface. They dismiss the party, saying that when COVID is gone the PPC will be gone too. 

They don’t take the PPC seriously as a vehicle, not just for anti-vaccine protesters, but the simmering white-supremacist movement across the country. These groups were around, growing, long before COVID showed up. They organized opposition to the anti-Islamophobia motion, M 103. They organized thugs to break up Indigenous rail blockades. They put on yellow vests. They recruited from the military and police. They believe in Qanon-style conspiracy theories.

Certainly COVID, and protesting for the right of individuals to ignore public health and social responsibility, has given them a big boost and an organizing focus. While Tories fret about losing support to the PPC, white nationalist and fascist organizations are urging their members to get active in the party. 

This election, for the first time, the PPC had enough on the ground organization and staffing to send observers to many voting stations. In St. Catharines a PPC observer disrupted voting by refusing to wear a mask as Elections Canada instructed. Police had to be called.

In my mid-town neighbourhood (a riding that has historically swung from NDP to Liberal) the PPC candidate only got about 1,200 votes – but that is not just 1,200 random anti-vaxxers. It is 1,200 bigots who can potentially connect and organize together under the PPC banner. Across the country over 500,000 such people connected through the PPC. Maybe as many again held their noses and voted strategically for O’Toole.

These people will be sorry not to have any MPs to carry their tiki torch, but they will be happy today with the election numbers. And when these people are confident and happy hate crimes and attacks go up. More violence against Indigenous people. More homophobic attacks. More domestic violence. More graffiti on synagogues and mosques. More police violence against the homeless. And more demonstrations targeting hospitals and healthcare workers.

I am not saying there are thousands of Nazis ready to march through our neighbourhoods under their own banner – at least not yet. But the size of the anti-vaccine events and the PPC vote turnout are a serious warning of what the future may hold if we do not organize to stop it.

To begin let’s stop downplaying the threat posed the PPC. After the election, Bernier told his supporters: "This is not just a political party. This is a movement. It is an ideological revolution that we are starting now.” It is time for the left and the labour movement to take him at his word, and act accordingly. 

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