As conservatives enter the federal election campaign area with polls putting them in a close fight against the Liberals, should they sweat for what is in their political right?
The leader of the People’s Party of Canada Maxime Bernier would like to think so.
The former conservative has attacked the current Conservative leadership as fake while introducing his populist horse into anti-blockade movements across the country and opposing government-imposed vaccine mandates and passports.
And although PPC lags far behind the Conservatives in about four percent of popular support in public opinion polls, Bernier and his 311 candidates are hoping for a “purple wave” of Conservative supporters and others who change their votes on September 20th.
Conservative leader Erin O’Toole, during a recent campaign stop in the Greater Toronto Area, skipped a question about Bernier and PPC, and instead announced his party as the best to start the post-economic recovery -pandemic of Canada.
Others such as Canada Proud have been more direct. The registered third-party advertiser, whose goal is stated to defeat Justin Trudeau Liberals, has added warnings of a split in the right.
Postponement of social media
The organization led by Jeff Ballingall, who served as digital director of the O’Toole 2020 leadership race, has promoted memes and videos on social media to convey its message.
This online effort has coincided with increased realities about the extent to which social media has fueled anti-vaccine and anti-Trudeau sentiment among segments of the Canadian population.
A Proud Canada post includes a photo of the Liberal leader smiling: “Trudeau when he finds out you are voting for PPC.” A second photo below depicts him with his eyes open with the caption: “Trudeau when he discovers he is voting Conservative.”
“Whether we like it or not, if we split the vote, Trudeau wins again,” the accompanying post said. “If you vote for PPC, you are voting for Trudeau,” reads another.
To say that some of those supporting the PPC are against Trudeau would be an understatement, as the people holding the party badges have been among the crowd of angry protesters who have thrown insults at the liberal leader in the campaign events.
PPC also ousted the president of its riding association ElginMiddlesexLondon last week after he was accused of throwing gravel at Trudeau during an event in London, Ont.
Police in the southwestern city of Ontario announced Saturday that they had charged Shane Marshall with the incident. The suspect shares the name of the former chairman of the PPC riding association, but the party did not immediately respond to a request for comment if the person now facing the charges is the same person.
Ballingall said in an interview that many people against Trudeau and the Liberals feel alienated from the current Canadian political process and may want to vote for PPC as a protest against the institution.
“They want to vote for PPC as a protest vote, they want to get rid of Trudeau, but you can not have both,” he said. “You can’t protest and get rid of Trudeau. It’s not a perfect scenario. It’s a binary choice.”
However, it is not just unjust Canadians who are supporting the PPC, as Bernier has managed to get angry about mandatory vaccinations and vaccine passports, a population that political strategist Shakir Chambers says includes non-conservatives.
“They occupy such a unique space in this election,” said Chambers, who helped Doug Ford Progressive Conservatives win the 2018 Ontario provincial election.
“They are saying we should have a conversation about these things. No other party says you can talk even whether it should be mandatory or not.”
The O’Toole vaccine has sparked outrage
O’Toole has tried to go a long way when it comes to vaccines, saying on the one hand Canadians should be immunized to curb the spread of COVID-19 and protect vulnerable citizens while on the other hand protecting freedom to choose not to do so.
This mixed message has put some of his conservative candidates when it comes to explaining where the party stands on the issue, including in the western heart of Saskatchewan and Alberta where the party remains dominant.
“You can read our platform … it’s very different from the Liberal platform,” current Alberta MP Garnett Genuis wrote in a recent Facebook comment.
“I understand that I do not agree with the party on everything. Honestly, I do not agree with the party on everything. But our party is against compulsory vaccination and is the only viable alternative for Justin Trudeau.”
WATCH | Conservative leader asked about increasing support in PPC polls
Arnold Viersen, another Alberta MP running for re-election, also attended.
“The Conservative Party opposes compulsory vaccines and a conservative government is the only way to block Trudeau from implementing it,” the candidate wrote.
The vaccine issue is the only one in which O’Toole sparked outrage among some on the right as he tried to direct more conservatives to the center. The Conservative leader has acknowledged that his plan to introduce a carbon price is also unpopular with some.
O’Toole has defended that decision several times during the election in an effort to better connect with the majority of Canadians who, according to opinion polls, want action on climate change.
“We have shown you that we are a new party,” he said on Friday. “We are a changed party and we are here to gain your trust.”
Chambers however believe that vaccines more than O’Toole’s more moderate views on climate change or abortion, the Conservative leader has said he supports a woman’s right to choose are the ones that can push disgruntled Tories into the arms of PPC.
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