It’s the final stop of Max Bernier’s multi-city tour of Saskatchewan, but you wouldn’t know it from his demeanor.
Bernier cheerfully greets supporters who file onto the Rock and Iron Sports Bar’s back patio to hear the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) leader address his third crowd of the day—the first two being in Saskatoon and North Battleford.
Almost 20 people have come out for the 4 p.m. meet-and-greet, which begins without the usual singing of the national anthem. It’s cancelled out of courtesy for a few golfers lining up putts on the Prince Albert Golf and Curling Club’s 18th Green.
Prince Albert PPC candidate Kelly Day elicits the first and only boos of the night when she admits to voting for Justin Trudeau in the past election.
“I ask your mercy,” she says with a chuckle. “I’ve learned the error of my ways.”
Day is one of three PPC candidates in attendance for this late afternoon event. The others are Mark Friesen, and small business owner Guto Penteado, who moved from Brazil to Saskatchewan with his wife 17 years ago. Both candidates are running in Saskatoon ridings.
Although she was raised in a conservative Christian household, Day supported left-wing policies in her early 20s. After a health scare last year she began reading articles and watching videos by Canadian clinical psychologist and author Jordan Peterson. She’s now returning to her conservative roots.
“I know I’m young. I know I have a lot to learn, but I am up to the challenge,” says Day, who is just getting back to the campaign trail after her father died three weeks ago. “I’m happy to learn. I’m happy to listen. I care about this country. I care about this province.”
After a brief introduction, Bernier steps in front of the crowd and speaks for the next hour on almost every topic imaginable. Military spending, pipelines, climate change and the free market all come up, but he keeps returning to three major subjects to: immigration, political correctness, and accusations that his party draws too many extremists and racists. He doesn’t shy away from any topic.
“For us, there’s no taboo,” he tells those in attendance. “In politics, there’s no political correctness. We believe in free speech, and we believe we are speaking about what’s important for Canadians.”
On immigration, Bernier boldly defends his party’s proposal to limit it to 150,000 people a year. Although he supports taking refugees, especially persecuted minorities, he criticizes Canada’s current immigration policies for not doing enough to weed out people who do not hold Canadian values. He also gains a hearty round of applause for saying not all cultures are equal.
“Right now there is a cost for our society,” he says. “I’m looking at what’s happening around the world—what’s happening in Europe, what’s happening in Australia, what’s happening in other countries. They have huge challenges with the integration of their immigrants.”
“We need to have a discussion right now about immigration because we love our country and we want our immigrants to come here and be part of our society, like it happened in the past,” he continues. “We all know this country has been built by immigrants … but they came here under an immigration system that was sustainable.”
Party supporters are another hot topic, but Bernier doesn’t shy away from that either. A little over a week before this event, an entire PPC riding board in Winnipeg resigned due to what they called the “racists, bigots, anti-Semites and conspiracy theorists,” that made up the support base. Bernier has also received criticism for people he’s appeared in photos with at major events, the most notable being members of the Northern Guard, who asked for a photo with him during an event in Calgary.
Bernier is adamant that his party runs background checks on all candidates to make sure they eliminate any hostile racist elements, but adds its impossible to do the same with every person who wants to take a photo with him. He also points out that any party that begins talking about restricting immigration is going to attract unsavory elements. He doesn’t want support from those people, he says. He’s not against immigrants. He just wants to make sure they love Canada.
“We want people who are able to be part of our society, people who share our values,” he explains.
Bernier doesn’t hesitate to take aim at his former party either, especially leader Andrew Scheer. At one point, he says you can vote for Justin Trudeau’s nice hair, or Scheer’s nice smile, but otherwise the Liberals and Conservatives are indistinguishable. In his view, Scheer has moved the party too far to the political centre, especially on issues like immigration, equalization and climate change.
“Andrew Scheer is a good guy,” he tells reporters afterwards. “He’s a good guy, but he’s a weak leader.”
The PPC is still finding its feet when it comes to some issues, especially policies geared towards Indigenous people. The party has yet to release an official platform on things like poverty in First Nations communities, or recommendations from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Bernier says he’s still doing a lot of reading and a lot of studying on the issue, and plans to have more formal policies up in the next two to three weeks. He hasn’t met with any Indigenous leaders yet, such as Assembly of First Nations Chief Perry Bellegarde, but he’d like to in the future.
If there’s one issue he’s adamant about, however, it’s the Indian Act, which was first passed more than 100 years ago. He wants it gone.
“It’s like the big brother in Ottawa telling (First Nations) people what to do, so we need to abolish that,” he says during the interview. “It’s not sustainable, the status quo, right now, so let’s work on it.”
Bernier wraps up his one-hour talk with a question and answer session. Topics range from private healthcare to military procurement to gun control and self-defense laws.
He’s confident Saskatchewan, which is the first province with a full slate of PPC candidates, will prove to be fertile ground in the next election. He’s especially confident in Prince Albert, where he says talk of splitting the vote is exaggerated since Liberal candidates havn’t been competitive in some time.
He believes most of Saskatchewan will come down to a contest between the PPC and his former Conservative Party, and he’s confident the newcomers can win.
“It’s a real conservative province and we have great candidates, so yes we can win,” he says with a big grin. “We just need to be out there speaking about our policies and people will understand.”