Candidates are set to take part in debates ahead of the Canadian federal election in October, but a new addition has become a divisive issue for politicians.
The People’s Party of Canada (PPC) leader Maxime Bernier, who did not qualify last month, now meets the criteria to participate, according to the debates commissioner. He will join Liberal party leader Justin Trudeau, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh, Green Party leader Elizabeth May, Bloc Québécois leader Yves-François Blanchet, and Conservative leader Andrew Scheer.
“Canadians will be able to look at all the options,” Bernier said on social media after learning the news.
Why there’s debate
Bernier has been vocal about his desire to put an end to “official multiculturalism” and to reduce the number of immigrants allowed into the country, from 350,000 a year to approximately 150,000. He has also rejected what he calls global warming alarmism and plans to withdraw from the Paris Accord, which was created to reduce the impact of climate change.
Singh called Bernier’s inclusion in the debates wrong because it gives him a platform to spread his “hateful” message. He penned a letter to Commissioner David Johnston, writing that “Mr. Bernier has courted racists to run for his party. He frequently promotes damaging conspiracy theories on his social media pages.”
Bernier was also under fire in early September for calling 16-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg “mentally unstable” in a Twitter post.
Most recently, he called Thunberg “extreme” and said there is no climate emergency.
“I don’t like what this young lady, Greta, 16 years old, is saying. I’m saying to Canadians, there is no climate emergency and no crisis,” Bernier said.
To add to the controversy, Bernier and the PPC could face legal action after being accused of defaming a Winnipeg man and making his personal information public.
“It was about harassment,” the man told Vice. “The reason was to make me and my family afraid, to send people after me.”
Despite the pushback, Johnston wrote to Bernier saying he believes that more than one candidate in his party has a “legitimate chance” of being elected, based on “recent political context, public opinion polls and previous general election results.”
Bernier and the other candidates continue to campaign across the country leading up to the election. The debates will be televised in two languages—in English on October 7 and in French on October 10. The federal election will be held on October 21.
Bernier sparks the immigration conversation.
“Bernier has tapped into a growing sentiment in Canada that all is not right with our immigration program, and we should welcome Bernier and his views on immigration to the debates, if for no other reason than he is putting the issue on the table.” — President of Ipsos Public Affairs Canada Mike Colledge, Global News
Leaders’ Debate Commission shouldn’t be able to dismiss Bernier’s platform.
“Although I find Bernier’s positions on immigration and climate change to be bone-headed, the commission is not empowered, not should it be, to weigh the party’s platforms and only approve participants who are proposing ideas that are not hateful or divisive.” — Journalist and author Stephen Maher, Maclean’s Magazine
Spreading the wrong message.
“Inviting Mr. Bernier to the debate gives credibility to the idea that vituperative rhetoric is an acceptable part of the discourse – a harmful development for the public interest.” — Montreal resident Christopher Holcroft, Globe and Mail
The party has nothing to lose.
“I don’t think they would go in with the burden of thinking they’ll ever have to govern. That’s a much different approach to a debate.” — University of New Brunswick Saint John political scientist J.P. Lewis, Global News