Progressive Conservative Leader Blaine Higgs said his party's candidate for Victoria-La Vallée, Roland Michaud, will withdraw from the race after the discovery of a meme on Facebook that encourages violence against transgender people.
"While I respect everyone's right to have their own personal views, I cannot endorse the promotion of messaging that is clearly sexist, offensive and hurtful to many people," Higgs said.
Higgs announced his decision at a press conference while campaigning in Saint John Monday afternoon. The party leader had said ealier in the day that he was unsure of Michaud's future with the party. Higgs said he expects the candidate to take down his campaign signs and he will not join the PC caucus if he wins the riding.
The story was first reported by PressProgress.
The post was on Michaud's page Monday morning, but by late morning the account had mostly been stripped, bearing only a cover photo promoting his candidacy and his date of birth.
The meme comes from a Facebook page called Guy Stuff and references a 2016 decision by Target stores to allow "transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity."
The New Brunswick Elections Act allows a candidate to withdraw as late as 48 hours before voting day by filing a declaration with the returning officer. However, the party may not select a replacement candidate, as the nomination deadline has passed.
In the event of a withdrawal, officials are expected to post notices at the polling station and inform voters when handing out ballots, according to the Act. All votes for Michaud would be considered spoiled ballots.
Ballots are already printed and as of Saturday, 63,000 New Brunswickers had already voted.
Polls suggested Victoria-La Vallée is a winnable riding for the Progressive Conservatives. The Liberals won it by only 358 votes in the 2018 provincial election.
Vetting process concerns
Higgs said Monday morning there is a vetting process for all new candidates and he's concerned the post was missed.
"If this is something that was posted for a while, how did it happen and why was it missed and what do we need to do about it?" he said.
Higgs said withdrawing a candidate places him in a vulnerable situation just a week away from election day. But he said he wants everyone to see a place for themselves within the PC Party.
"I'm trying to win a majority and clearly every seat counts," he said. "But I've never shied away from doing what is right, even if it hurts me politically."
'These things will never be repeated again'
Michaud posted a video apology on his Facebook account on Monday afternoon, asking the people of his riding for "forgiveness."
"I do realize that some of those memes that I posted could be harmful to you and I apologize," he said.
Michaud said his response was late because he wanted to speak to his friends from the LGBTQ community to offer personal apologies before addressing the issue publicly. He also apologized to Higgs and the PC party for "dragging them into this."
"I would like to say that elected or not these things will never be repeated again," he said.
Higgs said during the announcement that he had not yet spoken with Michaud, but planned to call him shortly.
"It's a message that we send across the province that we have higher standards that we uphold and that we all must follow," Higgs said.
Other memes on Michaud's now-defunct account depicted sexualized women, posts from right-wing Facebook groups and his opposition to the federal government's passing of a firearms bill that included enhanced background checks and forced retailers to keep records of firearms sales.
Saint John Harbour Liberal candidate Alice McKim called on Higgs to let Michaud go. In a prepared statement, she said a candidate who ridicules the dignity of women and gay and trans people is a danger to a free and peaceful society and is "not fit for office."
"This is a joke about a hate crime," McKim said. "Thankfully gender rights are protected under the New Brunswick Human Rights Act as well as Canada's Criminal Code."
McKim never referred to Michaud by his name in her statement, only as the PC candidate.
"We know degradation of this type increase the degraded to become victims of crimes. It increases the inhibitions of other to harm them, to harm us," said McKim, who is transgender.