Portage-Lisgar and a PPC parachute candidate
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Maxime Bernier is a party leader desperately in search of a constituency.
He’s also an ideologue with a masterful grasp of grievance politics, an opportunist in pursuit of a malleable audience, a carpetbagger with no discernible sense of shame and an agitator furiously in search of a grindable axe.
These are the dubious attributes the Quebec-born and-bred founder of the People’s Party of Canada brings to his quixotic quest to gain access to the House of Commons via a byelection in the staunchly conservative Manitoba riding of Portage-Lisgar.
The byelection — one of four that will take place (two in Manitoba, one each in Ontario and Quebec) on June 19 — was made necessary by the resignation in February of Conservative MP Candice Bergen, who had represented Portage-Lisgar since 2008.
It’s a steadfastly conservative region of Manitoba — Ms. Bergen received 68 per cent of the riding’s votes when she was first elected, and topped 70 per cent support in 2011 and 2019. But it’s also an area whose religious and ideological leanings made it a hotbed of anti-vaccination unrest during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to an unprecedented show of support for the then-fledgling PPC in the 2021 federal vote.
Ms. Bergen’s support dropped to 52 per cent — still more than double that of her closest competitor. But PPC candidate Solomon Wiebe attracted more than 21 per cent — nearly 10,000 votes, the highest level of support afforded to Mr. Bernier’s party anywhere in the country.
Which explains the PPC leader’s opportunistic decision to eschew a byelection run in the Quebec riding of Notre-Dame-de-Grace — a traditionally Liberal urban-Montreal enclave previously held by MP Marc Garneau — in favour of an electoral effort so far from home.
Mr. Bernier clearly thinks Portage-Lisgar represents his best shot at winning the PPC’s first-ever seat in Parliament. He probably understands it’s a slim chance, but figures it’s better than the no-chance he’d face in the other three byelections (which, along with Notre-Dame-de-Grace, include Winnipeg South Centre, formerly held by Liberal Jim Carr, and Oxford, a southwestern-Ontario CPC stronghold).
And so it was that Mr. Bernier last Friday stepped in front of a bank of microphones in Portage la Prairie and laid out his vision of a Canada that has descended into “moral and cultural degeneracy” at the hands of “extremists” and “radical cultural Marxists.”
Only the PPC, he argued during a 27-minute address, can deliver Portage-Lisgar (and, presumably, the rest of Canada) from the “‘woke cult’ (that) is demolishing the traditional pillars of our society and aims to establish a twisted and profoundly sick vision of the future.”
As doomsaying speeches employing far-right political talking points go, Mr. Bernier’s was a top-drawer effort, invoking the full buzz-word vocabulary from “elites” to “woke” to “fake” to “radical left,” and bemoaning such evils as “drag-queen story hour(s) in our schools and libraries” aimed at “forcing sexuality” on seven- and eight-year-olds.
Recognizing the electoral history of Portage-Lisgar, Mr. Bernier’s desolate narrative took specific aim at the CPC, calling it morally and intellectually corrupt and a “fake conservative party.”
As doomsaying speeches employing far-right political talking points go, Mr. Bernier’s was a top-drawer effort, invoking the full buzz-word vocabulary from “elites” to “woke” to “fake” to “radical left.”
Whether he can convince this rural Manitoba constituency, which has for four times supported a hard-right, MAGA-hat-wearing, “freedom-convoy”-supporting CPC stalwart, that the PPC is a preferable option remains to be seen.
But as a leader seeking to spark a political movement reminiscent of the rise of the Reform Party in the 1990s, Mr. Bernier has clearly decided staking his claim here represents his best — and very likely last — chance at leading the PPC to relevance.