TORONTO —The stage is set for Maxime Bernier to participate in the two official federal election debates next month.
On Monday, the leaders’ debates commissioner and former governor general David Johnston invited the leader of the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) to join the other five federal party leaders in the Oct. 7 English debate and the Oct. 10 French debate.
Bernier was not included in the initial invitation to the two debates overseen by the Leaders’ Debates Commission, pending certain criteria.
“With the benefit of more recent information, I am of the view that the PPC has attracted a significant number of party members, has established a notable presence in the media and on the political landscape and, based on recent polling data, has achieved a reasonable chance of success in more than
one riding,” said Johnston in a news release.
“That was the right decision,” Bernier said in a video on Twitter Friday.
The People’s Party later told supporters gathered in a Hilton ballroom in Saint John, N.B. that Canadians will be able to see “all the options” before them at the leaders’ debate.
“Today was a great day because now we’ve been recognized by the debate commission as a real national political party. And that’s only the beginning,” Bernier said.
The New Democrats objected to Bernier’s inclusion in the debates.
“The rise of extremism, hate speech and white supremacy is real threat to our country,” New Democrat spokesperson Melanie Richer said in an emailed statement. “Leaders have a responsibility to not feed this problem, but this is exactly what Maxime Bernier is doing.”
NDP leader says Bernier’s participation is ‘wrong’
During a campaign stop at Montreal’s Presbyterian College, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he doesn’t think Bernier’s “hateful and divisive” ideas deserve a national audience.
“I do not believe he should have been a part of the debate because of the damage that he can cause with already the rise of that the divisive type of politics, that hateful type of politics,” he said. “We do not need to give someone like Mr. Bernier a platform and that’s why I said very clearly I think that’s wrong.”
Singh said he will still go to the debate. “I will be going to the debate because I want hate to know that I’ll never back down from fighting hate.”
Bernier, who has publicly lamented what he calls “extreme multiculturalism” and recently claimed “Islamist extremists” are infiltrating Canadian political parties, has also spurred controversy by appearing in photos with far-right figures, including white supremacist Paul Fromm. The PPC told HuffPost Canada in July that Bernier had “no idea” who Fromm was.
In August, Johnston told the PPC it had to meet two of three criteria to be invited to the debates:
- Representation in the House of Commons by an MP elected by under the party’s banner.
- Candidates endorsed in at least 90 per cent of electoral districts in the general election.
- A legitimate chance of electing more than one candidate in the election or receive at least four per cent of valid votes in the most recent general election.
Johnston said in his report that the PPC has “satisfied the condition” that requires fielding candidates in 90 per cent of the ridings.
The party was also asked to provide a list of three to five ridings where they believed they could win. In addition to Bernier’s Quebec riding of Beauce, the party highlighted Manitoba’s Charleswood-St.-James-Assiniboia-Headingley, where former federal cabinet minister Steven Fletcher is on the ballot, as a place where the PPC could credibly secure.
The party also believes it has a shot with its candidates in three Ontario ridings:
- Renata Ford, widow of the late Toronto mayor Rob Ford, in Etobicoke North
- Former Tory MP Corneliu Chisu in Pickering-Uxbridge
- Former North Bay councillor Mark King in Nipissing-Timiskaming.
Johnston stated in his report that publicly available polling from Mainstreet Research, released in early August, showed Bernier leading in his Quebec constituency of Beauce. EKOS Research was tapped to conduct polling in the other four ridings and “in three of these four electoral districts more than one in four voters is considering voting for the PPC,” the report concludes.
Tories accuse commission of bias
The Conservatives accused Johnston of bias against them.
“It’s no big surprise that Justin Trudeau’s hand-picked debate panel used a Liberal-friendly pollster who attacks Andrew Scheer to ultimately justify Mr. Bernier’s attendance at the debate,” press secretary Daniel Schow said by email. “Trudeau has been stacking the deck for months, using the power of his office to tilt the playing field in his favour for this election.”
The debates commissioner also took into account Bernier’s personal popularity in his own riding of Beauce, as well as a submission from the Conservatives that no party has won a seat with national support under three per cent since 1949.
Johnston noted the decision-making process for determining inclusion was “complex” and required interpretation of what was meant by “legitimate chance,” and how to consider multiple factors — some of which were quantifiable and some which were not.
The commission’s invitation comes after PPC supporters rallied for his inclusion with the hashtag #LetMaxSpeak.
The Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats, Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party have confirmed participation in the debates, which will be held at the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, Que.
Moderated by partnership journalists
In May, the commission issued a request for proposal, seeking bidders to produce the English and French debates. Nine media outlets formed the Canadian Debate Production Partnership and won the contract to produce the two events.
The moderators for the debates come from those partner media organizations:
- CBC News
- CTV News
- Global News
- Toronto Star and the Torstar chain
- HuffPost Canada and HuffPost Québec
- La Presse
- Le Devoir
With files from Althia Raj, Zi-Ann Lum, and The Canadian Press