The leader of the upstart Maverick Party is disappointed over the results of last week's federal election but says other factors — like the fourth wave of COVID-19 and the People Party of Canada's pitch to disaffected voters — influenced the outcome.
Interim leader Jay Hill said the election's timing and strategic voting against the Liberals also hurt the party's result.
"We ran a credible campaign. Our 29 candidates stayed on message, unlike a number of the other parties," he said. "So I was very proud of the job that they did, and I'm very disappointed in the results."
The party fielded 29 candidates in Western Canada, including 19 in Alberta, in its first election since its founding.
Maverick candidates were only able to capture around one to four per cent of the vote, depending on the riding. Candidates for the People's Party of Canada (PPC) received more support — about five to 13 per cent of total votes cast in the electoral districts where they faced Maverick candidates.
The Maverick Party was founded in September 2020 when it changed its name from Wexit Canada.
Hill said the party had little time to prepare for an early election. He believes potential supporters voted for the Conservatives because they were the party with the best chance of removing Liberal leader Justin Trudeau from the prime minister's office.
Then there were attitudes around the fourth wave of COVID-19. He said the Maverick Party supports people's decisions not to be vaccinated but has also spoken about the consequences of making that choice.
Hill said PPC leader Maxime Bernier took advantage of people's frustrations over COVID-19 restrictions, vaccine passports and mandatory vaccination policies.
"For Max Bernier, in particular, to fan those flames, throw gasoline on the flames, I think was most unfortunate," Hill said.
"And there's no doubt that he got a lot of votes because of it. But I think he did a great disservice to all Canadians by his actions."
Janet Brown, principal of Janet Brown Opinion Research in Calgary, said the Maverick Party was facing an electorate that isn't interested in its message while Alberta is battling the fourth wave of COVID-19.
She also pointed to Bernier's ability to tap into people's frustrations, particularly in rural Alberta.
"The People's Party really came on strong and they really became the focus of the protest vote," she said.
"When you live in a riding where you know... a Conservative victory is is practically a fait accompli, you're just going to be more likely to feel that it's safe to lodge a protest vote and vote for the People's Party."
The Maverick Party can now issue tax receipts for political donations and is looking to select a permanent leader to take over from Hill, who only agreed to lead on an interim basis.
The party's goal is to elect MPs as part of a regional, not national, organization that will advocate for greater autonomy for Canada's western provinces.
The party announced on Friday that it plans to field candidates in all four western provinces in the next federal election. Organizers are starting to set up electoral district associations with the intention of starting candidate nominations within the next 12 months.
"We have a very credible message that the West needs a strong voice to represent us in Ottawa, at least as a preliminary step towards greater autonomy or independence in whatever fashion that western independence ultimately achieves," Hill said.