Election campaigns are typically ungrateful, with the mood of the candidates inextricably linked to their proximity to the finish line.
That is, as long as you have nothing to lose, then you can often enjoy the experience and get more exposure than you ever imagined – or frankly, deservedly.
Welcome to the world of Mad Max Bernier.
Mr Bernier leads the People’s Party of Canada. This is his second federal campaign as the front man of the political unit established in the wake of an unsuccessful bid for leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada in 2017. (He lost by a hair to Andrew Scheer.) But this time around him drew far more attention than the 2019 election.
The pandemic hasn’t been great, except for Mr Bernier’s political fortunes. It’s not the kind of bump that most people would be happy to join, but then again, beggars can’t be choosers. Several blasphemous anti-vaxxers, who have been protesting outside hospitals and angrily confronting Liberal leader Justin Trudeau on the campaign trail, have found a home at the PPC. (A former PPC riding chairman was recently accused of attacking Mr Trudeau with a weapon after he allegedly pelted stones with gravel at a campaign event.)
They are based on the party’s emphasis on independence and independence and its “governments-don’t-have-rights-to-tell-us-what” principle. A passionate, if not flaky liberal, Maxime Bernier is capitalizing on the intersection of a pandemic and a federal election. His party has given voice to those who believe that the vaccine mandate and passport are a violation of their constitutional rights.
Before now, Mr Bernier and his party have mostly been easily overlooked parties. His question about human-caused climate change and his terrifying joke about climate campaigner Greta Thunberg were enough to throw most general-minded people out of the party. The sketches that the PPC attracted to the nationalists were a matter of concern, but there was no threat to our security. If he wanted to have meetings and quote Ayn Rand, fine. If he wanted to be an outlet for the country’s conspiracy theorists, well.
But what he is doing on the campaign trail is not kosher. By no means.
Mr Bernier recently concluded a three-day visit to Alberta, where, according to polls, the PPC has more support than almost anywhere in the country. He also attended a few well-off including a church in Spruce Grove, just outside Edmonton. Hundreds, almost all without masks, gathered inside the church hall to hear Mr Bernier talk about how terrible it is that governments are using the pandemic to restrict people’s rights.
“Because we know that without freedom, there is no human dignity, equality of rights and economic prosperity,” he told his audience. “And we know that freedom is the foundation of our Western civilization.”
He took out a quote he often uses: “When tyranny becomes law, revolution becomes our duty.” It is a line familiar to many far-right militia organizations.
Here’s the biggest problem: Mr Bernier is giving cover to everyone who is refusing vaccination, not because of an underlying condition, but because they simply don’t want to. This incident is stopping our recovery from the pandemic. Alberta, for example, is in a crisis, with hospitals overrun by COVID-19. The province’s intensive care units are now treating a record number of patients sick with the virus, most of whom were not vaccinated. to imagine.
Meanwhile, Mr Bernier is promoting the kind of nonsense that is fueling anti-vaxer anger and making jobs so hard for governments trying to tame the fourth wave. This will be the biggest legacy of the PPC leader and his biggest shame.
To this day, many of Mr Bernier’s former aides in the Conservative Party are stunned by what he is seeing. He didn’t see it coming. Mr Bernier was always a moderate, but he did not take himself too seriously. He had a playful sense of humour. They can be relied upon to hold serious positions in government, if not always without incident.
But after he came just short of winning the CPC leadership four years ago, something changed, and not for the better. It looked like he had become irritable and intended to do as much damage to the CPC as he could.
There is no doubt that he is snatching some support from his old party in this election. However, it remains to be seen whether this will be enough to give the CPC a shot at the government.
Regardless, when the story of this election is written, Mr Bernier will remain a historical footnote. And a shame at that.
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