Allowing Maxime Bernier to participate in the official federal leaders’ debates will give the People’s Party leader a stage to promote hate, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has told the debates’ commissioner.
“It is wrong that Mr. Bernier be given a platform to promote an ideology of hate that spreads prejudice and disinformation,” Singh said in a letter Tuesday to David Johnston, the former governor general tapped by Liberals to lead the Leaders’ Debates Commission.
The NDP leader alleged in his letter that Bernier has “courted racists to run for his party,” and has been photographed with “far-right hate groups with neo-Nazi ties.” He also noted how Bernier recently attacked Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden. In a series of tweets this month, Bernier questioned the teen’s motivations and called her “mentally unstable.”
“These are not the actions of a person who has earned the privilege of promoting their agenda on a national stage,” Singh wrote.
Watch: 3 federal leaders spar earlier this month in Maclean’s/CITY-TV debate. Story continues after video.
Though Bernier was in jeopardy of missing the cut for the October events, Johnston determined Monday that the People’s Party leader met two of the three conditions required to get on those stages: candidates in at least 90 per cent of 338 ridings and a reasonable chance at winning multiple seats.
The People’s Party made a case to the commission that they had a shot at victory in Bernier’s Quebec constituency as well as four other ridings. The commission hired EKOS Research to conduct polling in those four ridings and found “more than one in four voters” are considering voting for the party in three of those districts, according to Johnston’s report.
But Singh stated that “most informed political analysts believe [Bernier’s] party is unlikely to gain seats in this election”
The NDP leader asked Johnston to reconsider the invitation, saying Canadian voters aren’t well served by a debate that must spend time “defending values that are already at the core of what Canadians believe.”
Read Singh’s full letter:
Bernier, who narrowly lost the Conservative leadership race to Andrew Scheer in 2017, has lamented what he calls “extreme multiculturalism” and recently claimed “Islamist extremists” are infiltrating political parties.
Though Bernier has said racists aren’t welcome in his party, organizers were encouraged last spring to court votes from a far-right group. Bernier has also appeared in photos with far-right figures, including white supremacist Paul Fromm. The People’s Party told HuffPost this summer Bernier had “no idea” who Fromm was.
Bernier told supporters in New Brunswick Monday that the decision will mean Canadians can see “all the options” before they vote in October.
“Today was a great day because now we’ve been recognized by the debate commission as a real national political party. And that’s only the beginning,” he said.
Johanne Mennie, executive director of the People’s Party, told HuffPost Canada in an email: “Mr Singh’s false opinions and slanders regarding the PPC have no bearing on the Commission’s criteria to determine who is invited in the debates and are therefore irrelevant.”
A spokeswoman for the debates commission told HuffPost the group had no comment on Singh’s letter at this time.
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When the news of Bernier’s invitation broke, Conservatives alleged in a statement to HuffPost that “Justin Trudeau’s hand-picked debate panel used a Liberal-friendly pollster who attacks Andrew Scheer” to justify the decision.
At an event in Winnipeg Tuesday, Scheer was asked by a reporter if his party is questioning the credibility of the debates and the panel. The Tory leader brushed off the question by saying he will “debate anybody who is running to be prime minister.”
The Conservative leader also suggested he is not worried about attacks he will inevitably face from Bernier, who has called him a weak leader and has said the Conservative Party is “morally bankrupt.”
“I’ve debated Maxime before. My focus is on Justin Trudeau and I’m hoping that he shows up at the next debate. I’m looking forward to him finally showing up and participating in a debate,” he said, making a dig at the Liberal leader’s decision to skip an event hosted by Maclean’s and Citytv last week.
Trudeau was also asked about Bernier during a campaign announcement in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The Liberal leader reiterated that the decision was made by the independent commission.
“As for Mr. Bernier, I look forward to holding him to account publicly for his intolerant views and I certainly hope all other leaders will do the same,” Trudeau said.
The commission will host an English debate in Ottawa on Oct. 7, followed by a French-language event on Oct. 10. The two live events are being produced by an unprecedented partnership of media outlets, including HuffPost Canada. Debate moderators come from that partnership, which won the production contract.
With earlier files