OTTAWA — Quebec MP Maxime Bernier submitted the paperwork to make his new political party official Wednesday but does not have to identify the donors of more than $350,000 he raised in the last seven weeks.
Bernier clutched a thick brown folder under his arm as he arrived at Elections Canada offices in Gatineau, Que., to seek official registration for the People's Party of Canada. He had a spring in his step and small smile on his face as he strode past reporters and cameras before realizing he was going the wrong way.
"Mon dieu," he exclaimed, as he did an about face.
Watch: Bernier says he offers 'smart populism'
He spoke for a few minutes with an Elections Canada official behind a pane of glass as he slid the file folder containing registration forms and the names, contact information and signatures of 475 people who are members of the party. The new party requires at least 250 people to support the registration, as well as have a name, a logo, a leader and several party officers in place.
Bernier says in fact there are 22,477 "founding members" and that he has raised more than $350,000 since he announced the new party on August 23. The party provided a screen shot of the online donation page showing $337,231.52. Officials say another $15,000 came in the mail by cheque.
Bernier says they have raised every dollar according the rules for registered parties, including maximum donations per person of $1,575, but the People's Party of Canada does not have to disclose the identity of donors who donated funds prior to the party's formal registration.
Bernier said he is respecting Canadian legislation. "We are using that money to build the party."
He said his goal is to raise $3.5 million before the election in the fall of 2019.
The People's Party of Canada will have to provide an audited financial statement of assets within six months of registration but does not have to disclose how it raised those funds. If the documents submitted Wednesday fulfil the requirements, the party will become registered as soon as it endorses its first candidate.
Bernier is the first, and for now, only candidate.
He said there are 43 riding associations already in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and another meetings taking place this week to create 27 more. But he says the focus right now is on getting the local party infrastructure established and won't turn his attention to recruiting candidates until January.
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Bernier was a Conservative MP for more than a decade before leaving the party in August after a dispute with Leader Andrew Scheer, mainly over the party's support for supply management. However the groundwork for the new party began after Scheer defeated Bernier for the Conservative leadership by a tiny margin in May 2017.
Bernier said he has no contact with his former party — which he has previously labelled "morally and intellectually corrupt" but is buoyed by the success of parties like the Coalition Avenir Quebec, which just won the Quebec election, and was only created in 2011.
He said it shows people will give legitimate consideration to new parties such as his.