What does Sask.'s political history tell us about the growing popularity of the People's Party of Canada?

·5 min read
People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier and wife, Catherine Letarte, speak to supporters at the PPC election night event in Saskatoon on Monday. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press - image credit)
People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier and wife, Catherine Letarte, speak to supporters at the PPC election night event in Saskatoon on Monday. (Liam Richards/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Maxime Bernier's People's Party of Canada may have failed to win any seats in Monday's federal election, but it has gained supporters and votes throughout the election, including here in Saskatchewan.

According to data from Elections Canada, the PPC garnered 1.8 per cent of the vote in Saskatchewan during the 2019 federal election — the first election for the relatively new right-wing party.

The PPC's total percentage of the Saskatchewan vote for the 2021 federal election is not yet known, due to mail-in ballots that are still being counted and those who registered to vote on the day of the election.

However, Elections Canada says the PPC got 3.8 per cent of the vote in Regina-Lewvan, 3.7 per cent in Regina-Wascana, 6.4 per cent in Saskatoon West, and 4.9 per cent in Desnethé-Missinippi-Churchill River. Those four ridings were the province's most hotly contested on Monday.

Those numbers show that the PPC came nowhere close to gaining a federal seat in Saskatchewan, or even threatening to split the conservative vote.

But the party's growing popularity in the Prairie province is evident not only from the purple signs scattered across lawns, but Bernier's decision to host the PPC rally in Saskatoon on the night of the federal election, rather than in Beauce, the Quebec riding where he ran.

"I thought it was quite significant that he's from Quebec and he was running in a riding in Quebec. But yet he wound up having the rally last night in Saskatchewan," said Howard Leeson, professor emeritus at the University of Regina's department of politics and international studies.

That's "an obvious nod to the fact that most of the support is out here in Prairie Canada and the interior of British Columbia," Leeson said.

Throughout the campaign, Bernier was adamant on his opposition to COVID-19 vaccine mandates and pandemic lockdowns.

After projected election results rolled in Monday night, he took the stage at his Saskatoon rally to a chant of "freedom."

Bernier told supporters the PPC will only continue to gain traction in future elections and that Monday was a historic night.

Populist parties before the PPC

Leeson says the Maverick Party — formerly known as Wexit Canada — and the PPC took considerable votes in rural areas of Saskatchewan as well as in the southwest region, but those gains did not slow down the Conservatives, who once again won all 14 of the province's seats.

In fact, all eyes were on the Liberals and the NDP when it came to splitting the vote in Saskatchewan ridings, which could help the Conservatives.

While Leeson acknowledges that the PPC has gained popularity in Saskatchewan, he says the party is not unique to these pandemic times.

"People tend to forget that, especially in the rural areas of Western Canada, there are deeper, longer roots for this kind of of political movement. And we see it arising quite often throughout history," said Leeson.

"If you look at the history of Prairie Canada over the last 100 years, it's a great bastion of new parties coming and going, and they're generally populist parties of the left and of the right. So the People's Party, in that sense, is nothing new."

Trevor Hopkin/U of R Photography
Trevor Hopkin/U of R Photography

Leeson points to the Social Credit Party of Saskatchewan, which first appeared in the 1935 federal election. That year the party received 20 per cent of the popular vote in the province and won two seats, in Kindersley and The Battlefords.

Leeson says the Social Credit party was a force through to the 1970s.

He also point to the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation as an example of populist party that hit Saskatchewan in the past. Leeson says the CCF was on the left wing of populism.

The CCF formed the first social-democratic government in North America in 1944, when it was elected to form Saskatchewan's provincial government. In 1961, it was succeeded by the NDP.

"The thing that [the Social Credit party and the CCF] had in common, of course, was a regional alienation — a feeling of resentment toward the eastern part of the country, which they saw as taking economic advantage of them and having most of the political power because of their numbers," Leeson said.

"So parties like the Maverick Party and the PPC out here in Western Canada, there's fairly fertile soil for that. And that tradition is not just rooted in a pandemic now, it's rooted in a long history out here."

What's next for the PPC?

Leeson says the PPC's future popularity in Saskatchewan depends a lot on what the Conservative Party does.

"If it reverts to a much more western base, more stridently right wing, I think they'll win some of those PPC people back again," he said.

However, if the Conservatives continue to try to win Ontario seats and "are looking a lot more like the Liberals," that could spell danger for them in the west, Leeson says.

"Then I think that the Maverick Party and the PPC might grow here, along with their provincial counterparts the Buffalo Party."

However, Leeson says the PPC might need a new leader.

"[Bernier] is not kind of a natural leader of the party. I think they'll probably be looking for someone from Western Canada to lead the party. That's one change I think we'll see coming in the future with it."

In the meantime, Leeson says only the next federal election will really tell what the PPC's future holds.

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