The entire People's Party of Canada board in a Winnipeg riding has resigned in disgust, claiming the upstart party is being taken over by racists, anti-Semites and conspiracy theorists.
The resignation letter from the former executive in the Elmwood-Transcona riding says they cannot sit by as bigoted views hold prominence in public discussions about the party.
They argue the party attracted supporters who would deny freedoms to Canadians, close borders and spread false information online.
"None of these are things we would have expected you to stand beside during the leadership campaign," said the letter addressed to party leader Maxime Bernier, who earned a following while striving to lead the federal Conservatives in the 2017 leadership race.
Candidate feared for his reputation
"We are appalled to see it encouraged with a wink and a nod now," the board wrote.
The letter, sent to the party and posted on social media on Tuesday, says many of their members and volunteers turned their back on the party. Their only prospective candidate, the letter says, bowed out over the "justifiable fear of a tainted reputation."
Riding association president Shaun Martin said the executive felt no choice but to resign.
It's disappointing, the 35-year-old said, because they believed in Bernier's stances against corporate welfare, supply management and government intervention.
But before long, Martin said, the party latched on to racist and anti-immigrant sentiment, which didn't fit with the principled alternative he thought the People's Party would become.
"We kind of held out hope that Max would stop just saying that he's denouncing this stuff and actually take some action against the people who are doing these things," Martin said. "But we didn't see any evidence of that, and we just couldn't stay any longer."
The PPC did not respond Wednesday or Thursday to requests for comment.
Willows Christopher was ready to be the party's candidate in Elmwood-Transcona. He finished the paperwork and his nomination video — but couldn't go through with it.
"We've even seen organizers and people higher up the chain that are kind of into conspiracy theories and anti-Muslim," he said. "It's ideas like that that none of us on the board signed on for. That's not what we thought the party would be about and that's not what we got involved for."
Christopher, 23, said he's met Bernier many times, had lunch with him, and is certain he isn't racist, but could no longer stand with the party in good conscience.
He still wants to be a member of Parliament one day.
"I actually do want to make a change, and I think that throwing my hat in the ring with people that I don't believe in, and believe in their ideologies, is probably a bad idea."
Bernier visits Winnipeg
Martin said the group timed their resignation letter Tuesday for the same day when Bernier was in Winnipeg to unveil several of his Manitoba candidates. His most notable candidate is Steven Fletcher, a member of the Manitoba Legislature and a former federal cabinet minister,
"It's ridiculous. I don't accept that that's happening," Fletcher said about the accusations by the Elmwood-Transcona group.
If he heard any of his supporters with those types of views, Fletcher said "they'd be kicked out pretty fast."
He praised the diversity of the PPC's candidates and insisted the extreme views in question are more likely to show up in parties "on the far left of the political spectrum."
"Some elements of the NDP and the Green Party, that's where you find the anti-Semitic viewpoints," he said, but provided no examples to back up the claims.
"The only anti-anything that I've really noticed on social media is an anti-Quebec vibe where people say we can't have a prime minister from Quebec. And that is coming from, I would suggest, people supporting [Conservative Party leader] Andrew Scheer," Fletcher said.
"They're trying to somehow stigmatize MPs from Quebec and somehow say they're not eligible to be prime minister, which is absurd."
He suggested it's rooted in vindictiveness against Bernier.
A Quebecer, Bernier ran in 2017 for the Conservative Party leadership against Scheer. After finishing second, Bernier resigned from the party to create his own, citing disagreements with Scheer's leadership.
The federal election is on Oct. 21.