People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier made his federal election pitch to Albertans in person Monday night, joining Banff-Airdrie riding candidate Nadine Wellwood as they hosted two town halls in Cochrane and Airdrie.
More than 200 people showed up at a Cochrane community hall for speeches and a question period with Bernier, in his first Alberta stop during the campaign before the Sept. 20 election.
Bernier says the PPC is the only national political party speaking against COVID-19 vaccination passports and mask mandates, arguing the party is standing up for freedom of choice.
"We want to be sure that Albertans and Canadians understand that this election, it's about our way of life," he said.
"Do you want more and more of the same? Draconian restrictions on your freedoms, or you want to go back to your life before COVID-19?"
The party's platform also includes more provincial autonomy, significant changes to the federal equalization plan, a withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords, a streamlined pipeline approval process and finding a private buyer for the Trans Mountain project.
'The Conservative Party of Canada abandoned Alberta,' says PPC candidate
PPC candidate Nadine Wellwood said she believes she is the better choice for voters in the Banff-Airdrie riding who want a truly conservative candidate than Conservative candidate, Blake Richards, the incumbent.
"The Conservative Party of Canada abandoned Alberta, in my opinion, and conservatives a long time ago," she said. "If we want change in our province, we have to change how we vote."
As of Tuesday morning, other candidates in the Banff-Airdrie riding include: Aidan Blum for the Green Party, David Gamble for the Liberals, Tariq Elnaga for the Maverick Party, Sarh Zagoda for the NDP and John Ross, Derek Sloan and Caroline O'Driscoll as Independents.
PPC trying to lure voters who feel O'Toole is 'Liberal-light': political scientist
Mount Royal University policy studies professor Duane Bratt says the PPC is trying to appeal to voters who feel like Conservative Party Leader Erin O'Toole is just "Liberal-light."
"It's going to be anti-COVID and it will be anti-climate change. And for a certain segment of society, those two almost go hand in hand — that you can't believe the science on climate and you can't believe the science on COVID because they saw a YouTube video," he said.
The People's Party of Canada didn't win a seat in 2019 and received just 1.6 per cent of the vote.
"It's possible they could be picking up more votes, maybe they'll be at four, maybe they'll be at five per cent," Bratt said.
"Clearly, there are people that do support him, largely in rural Alberta."
Other party leaders visited Alberta early
Alberta tends to receive little attention from party leaders during federal election campaigns, as it traditionally has elected Conservatives to all or the vast majority of its 34 ridings.
While the Liberals had a breakthrough in the 2015 election that brought Justin Trudeau to power, capturing four seats in the province, they lost them all in 2019 with the Conservatives capturing every riding except a central Edmonton one retained by the NDP.
During that 2019 campaign, Albertans barely glimpsed the major party leaders. The then-leader of the Conservatives, Andrew Scheer, only made two visits to the province, as did Trudeau — including one in the final hours of the campaign. Bernier campaigned a bit in the province, the Green leader stopped once and the NDP's Jagmeet Singh didn't visit at all.
This time around, Bernier — who has appearances in Sylvan Lake, Red Deer, Lacombe and Didsbury before heading to B.C. and Saskatchewan — has not been the only national party leader to swing by relatively early in the campaign.
Trudeau visited Calgary on Aug. 19 for a rally with candidate George Chahal, who is trying to take the Calgary Skyview riding for the Liberals.
The incumbent, lawyer Jag Sahota, won back the riding back for the Conservatives in 2019. Other confirmed candidates as of Tuesday include: Nadeem Rana for the Centrist Party, Janna So for the Greens, Lee Aquart as an Independent, Daniel Blanchard for the Marxist-Leninists, Gurinder Singh Gill for the NDP and Harry Dhillon for the PPC.
Hours before Trudeau appeared in Calgary, Singh made campaign stops in Edmonton, where he promised more money for health care.
And Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole made an appearance in Edmonton on Aug. 21, where he promised to increase the disability supplement of the Canada Workers Benefit from $713 to $1,500.