After much controversy, Maxime Bernier landed in Guelph Friday night for a town hall style engagement with local People’s Party of Canada candidate Mark Paralovos. The nearly two-hour discussion covered a wide-range of topics, and the answers are as unlikely to persuade critics as they are likely to dissuade supporters.
Guelph Politico, and other media outlets, were allowed to cover the town hall on condition that we didn’t reveal the location before, during, or after the event. Other than that, no conditions were place on the reporting of this event.
On the People’s Party.
Near the end of the meeting, Mississauga-Erin Mills PPC candidate Hazar Alsabagh asked Bernier how he would describe the political point of view of the party. “I’ve already been called a fascist, but I’ve also been called a commie, I’ve been called ‘crazy eyes,’ and also a racist. And the list goes on,” she said.
“We are the freedom fighters,” Bernier said. “And also what we want is that every time there’s a challenge in our society, we’re not looking for a government solution, we’re looking for a private sector solution. The question is, do you want more government involvement in your day to day life or less government? […]
“We are a responsible people, and when you are responsible, you are responsible not just for your good actions, but also for your bad ones,” he added. “We’re fighting for the real values of our country.”
On the terms of the town hall.
Paralovos opened by saying it had “been a week.” He thanked the 60-plus people for taking part in the town hall in-person, and the people who were watching on Paralovos’ YouTube channel. “I am happy and excited, elated really, to introduce to you the leader of the fastest growing political party in Canadian history,” he declared, referring to Bernier.
There were however, some ground rules. “Any disruptions, and this gentleman here will come over with another gentleman and tell you that it’s probably a good idea for you to leave,” Paralovos said indicating two men in the back of the room. “We need to touch on things that are uncomfortable, we need to touch on things that you don’t like, but that doesn’t mean we don’t like you. That just means that these are hard conversations,” he added.
Outside the venue, at least four Guelph Police officers stood guard in tactical gear and unmarked vehicles. There were no disturbances during the meeting from anyone inside, or anyone outside, the town hall.
The theme of debate came up again and again during the nearly discussion, but what about debate with the people protesting downtown at the same time, the ones that the People’s Party moved their venue to avoid?
“You know, it’s too bad that these people didn’t want to have a discussion. They told us that they want to use violence to promote their ideas, and that’s not what we’re doing in Canada,” Bernier said when asked after the town hall. “If they want to discuss ideas, come and debate and I will debate with them, but respect our point of view, that’s part of our platform.”
There was never any explicit threat of violence, but the People’s Party considered a poster promoting the protest where a knife was stabbing a swastika in a World War II-style propaganda image. The local PPC members considered the image to be a threat of violence and reported it to Guelph Police.
“We want to respect everybody, but it is too bad that we had to change venue and location,” he added.
So was Bernier saying that he would meet with the Guelph protestors if asked?
“A public discussion? Absolutely,” he said. “They can ask a question, and they can come here and have a civilized discussion. You know, if I’m asking question, I will answer that question, and then it’s up for debate. I believe that we have the right ideas when you speak about freedom and personal responsibility, that’s the foundation of your Western civilization.”
On fiscal prudence.
Bernier promised that a PPC government would balance the Federal budget in one year by cutting corporate welfare, cutting foreign aid, and making additional cuts to programs, all while also cutting taxes. At the same time, Bernier promised that the PPC will not pass massive omnibus bills, each part of the budget will be debated on, and voted for separately.
“The role of Parliament, the role of the Member of Parliament, will be to have a consultation with Canadians about the best way to do that reform, and we will pass only one bill for the changes for CBC [for example],” Bernier explained.
“In the end, our goal is to achieve what I’m speaking about right now in the platform, because it’s nice to have ideas, but we need to have the support of the population about our ideas,” he added.
On migration and immigration.
The U.N. Global Compact for Migration came up in the first 15 minutes of the town hall.
The compact is a non-binding agreement between its signatories, including Canada, to handle the challenges associated with large numbers of people migrating around the globe in a “holistic and comprehensive manner.” Many erroneously believe that the compact allows the U.N. to override the sovereign authority of member countries over their border and immigration policies.
Still, Bernier will separate his Canadian government from it, and from the Paris Accord, the 2015 U.N. framework to deal with greenhouse gas emissions, and keep the global temperature below two degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels. Only one country on Earth is not presently a part of that accord, the United States.
“We won’t be part of the Paris Accord committee, we won’t be part of the global migration compact,” Bernier said, adding that he does realize that the Migration Compact is non-binding and that the some “U.N. bureaucrat” will not be writing Canada’s immigration policy. Still, the PPC leader said that Canada has to make it’s own immigration decisions free from international considerations.
“It must be discussed in Canada, and we must follow our principals, and for me, an immigration policy for this country must be there to fulfill our economic needs, and not to please the U.N.,” Bernier explained.
“Migration is normal, and migrants can come to other countries, but to be Canadian, it is a privilege, and we must be proud,” he added. “We need to help these people to stay in their countries by having free trade with them, but not open our borders to massive migrations or mass immigration, we’re against that.”
“So the direction with migration is one where Canada will keep our sovereignty, and these decision was be taken by politicians in Canada,” Bernier added to applause from the room.
Paralovos asked Bernier what the term “globalist” means to him?
Many consider globalist to be a thinly veiled anti-Semitic attack. “For the far right, globalism has long had distinct xenophobic, anti-immigrant, and anti-Semitic overtones,” said Liam Stack in his “glossary of extremist language” in the New York Times. “It refers to a conspiratorial worldview: a cabal that likes open borders, diversity, and weak nation states, and that dislikes white people, Christianity, and the traditional culture of their own country.”
Bernier went for a simpler definition. “It’s somebody that is ready to give your sovereignty and some powers to another international entity, like the U.N.,” he said, “somebody that is ready to work with the U.N. on an agenda for a world government.”
Of course, conspiracy theorists for years have made the case for the “Zionist Occupation Government,” or the idea that Jewish people secretly control the western world and its governments.
“I prefer to keep our our sovereignty as a government and not give some of our power to other entities,” Bernier said. “I look at what happened in the U.K., and with the Brexit vote over there, and I think they were fed up to have decisions coming from Europe.”
Earlier, while talking about the U.N.Global Compact on Migration, Bernier began by saying that the U.N. of today is not the U.N. of the 1950s. “You have people have an agenda, and the agenda is to have a global government,” he said.
He compared the U.N. to the European Union saying, “It was about free trade between the European countries, but now they are imposing their views over sovereign countries, and understand that what happened in the U.K. with Brexit was that people voted to keep their sovereignty.”
“Everything’s more expensive this year,” Paralovos observed. Bernier agreed calling inflation a “hidden tax” and he blamed Canada’s protectionist legislation. Also, we should privatize the airports.
“When they are privatized, they have the ability to go to the capital markets to raise money,” Bernier said. “So instead of always taxing the users and the consumers, they’ll be able to find money in the capital markets to make their improvements.”
Bernier said that he would open up the aviation sector to more foreign investment, and end protectionist policies there saying more free markets means more freedom and more private investment, and the same goes for the telecom sector.
“Our fees for our cell phones are very high,” Bernier said to applause. “We need to have other corporations that will come here to compete, so let’s abolish these restrictions, and you will have more competition, and with more competition you have better products and prices,” he said.
When asked after the meeting by Guelph Politico contributor Eli Ridder if that included the Chinese telecom Huawei, Bernier simply responded, “Oh, no, no, no.”
Huawei is closely tied to the Chinese government, prompting concerns that the company’s plan to build a global 5G network will allow China to piggyback their espionage efforts. Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Vancouver in earlier this year, prompting a diplomatic crisis between Canada and China.
On talking with Americans.
Paralovos asked Bernier about his approach with whoever ends up being the U.S. President after 2020, saying the relationship between Canada and its closest neighbour has been “strained” by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau trying to score “cheap political points.”
Bernier made the business argument.
“[The United States] are our biggest clients, and our allies, and we must work with them, but also we must also respect them,” he said. “What’s happening right now with the Trudeau government, is that they’re just always interfering in internal American politics, and I won’t do that. I will respect the president that Americans will elect in a year from now.”
A couple of people asked Bernier for his policy ideas on healthcare, and he said that part of the problem is that people don’t know who to blame for long wait times, is it the Federal government who aren’t paying enough, or is it the Provinces for not managing well?
“The income that the Federal government receives every year [from GST] is about $40 billion, so we’ll give [the provinces] the power to tax, we will give them the GST, they will be independent, and you will know who to blame, and that will give direct incentive to these provinces to look at another system,” Bernier said.
And what is the perfect system? Bernier said we should have a mix of private and public healthcare. “The solution is not more and more money, the solution is to have a more efficient system and more competition between private delivery and public delivery,” he added.
Pro? Yes, the People’s Party is definitely pro-pipelines, and they’re prepared to make it easier to get them built with certain constitutional powers on day one.
Bernier said his government would use section 92 of the Constitution, which covers the “Exclusive Powers of Provincial Legislatures,” to affirm that oil pipelines are in the national interest, so that the Federal government can override Provincial governments and their concerns.
“When you do that, and use the Constitution, the Federal government will have the full authority, and the full responsibility for jurisdiction to approve pipelines,” Bernier said.
Don’t worry though, Bernier said that a PPC government will totally hear out the protests of other provinces first.
“If there’s a province like my own province in Quebec, or another province like B.C., that don’t doesn’t want a pipeline, we would be able to, after consultation, build a pipeline for the unity and the prosperity of this country,” he said.
Bernier was asked about the issue, but it’s unlikely that the people concerned about this country’s abortion policy liked the answers.
“Our party won’t have a position of abortion because it’s a moral and a conscience matter,” Bernier said.
A man named Gordon asked about what the People’s Party will do about the “100 babies that are born alive and allowed to die on the table,” likely referring to late-term abortions. According to the Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada, in 2017, 0.66 per cent of abortions were performed after 21 weeks. Clinics not affiliated with hospitals don’t perform abortions after 21 weeks as a rule.
Despite a lack of policy, Bernier said that he would not stop a member from raising the issue for debate, or bringing forward a motion or private members bill.
“Every Member of Parliament has the right to table a bill on any subject, and yes, we’ll have a debate on that subject,” Bernier said. “I’m open to that, but if we have a debate, it has to be a free vote for everybody.”
On the Environment.
Oh yes, the People’s Party of Canada has an environmental policy. Not a climate change policy, but an environmental policy. “The environment is very, very near and dear to people’s hearts [here],” Paralovos said before asking Bernier to describe PPC policy on the subject.
“I believe that the we’re not climate deniers, the climate is changing and it will always change,” said Bernier in a line that will likely send shivers down the back of the environmentalists Paralovos hopes to appeal to.
“What we’re saying is that the main reason why the climate is changing it is not because of human activity, human activity may have a role, but in the end there are other factors. I’m not the scientist,” Bernier explained.
It’s okay though, because Bernier’s trying to bring an environmental expert to the meeting of PPC candidates in August, Greenpeace co-founder Patrick Moore. Of course, Greenpeace refutes that Moore is a co-founder of the group, and in recent years, Moore has become well-known for his denial of climate change, earning him the esteem of American politicians for his media appearances.
One more thing, “We will get rid of carbon tax,” Bernier said to applause.
On (Checks Notes) “The Mind Masters”.
One questioner, who didn’t give his name, said that he agreed with Bernier on getting Canada out of the U.N. Global Compact on Migration and the Paris Accord, but was concerned that the People’s Party leader would not be able to follow through without “the true Powers That Be” giving Bernier a “Kennedy haircut.”
“You know, the people that run things,” he said, which was followed by laughter from the people in attendance. “It happens to be true,” the man added.
“It is a Canadian decision, it was [Trudeau’s] decision, and we oppose it,” Bernier said about the compact. “The same thing with the Paris Accord.”
When asked again, Bernier said that he was not worried about political assassination by nefarious forces if he should happen to become Prime Minister of Canada.
Throughout the town hall was the affirmation that the People’s Party was just asking questions, and that they just want smaller rates of more targeted immigration, but they are not racists.
The accusations are there though. Last week, Bernier himself was criticized for posing with three people who appeared to be members of the white nationalist group the Northern Guard, one of whom was flashing the “OK” hand sign, which has been co-opted by white supremacist groups in recent years.
On top that, there was the controversy with the PPC riding association in the Winnipeg riding of Elmwood-Transcona earlier this week. The entire board resigned saying that the party’s embrace of racists and conspiracy theorists overrides their dedication to economic populism.
“We’ve even seen organizers and people higher up the chain that are kind of into conspiracy theories and anti-Muslim,” said Willows Christopher, who was nearly the party’s candidate in Elmwood-Transcona. “It’s ideas like that that none of us on the board signed on for. That’s not what we thought the party would be about and that’s not what we got involved for.”
“We’re working with Canadians across the country, we’re sharing our values of individual freedom, personal responsibility, respect and fairness, and everybody who knows me knows what I believe in, and I don’t have to explain myself and justify that I’m not a racist, and I won’t go there,” Bernier said after the meeting.
When the Guelph Mercury-Tribune reporter asked why the board resigned, Bernier responded, “Ask them.”