Independent MP Maxime Bernier says he was unfamiliar with the beliefs of a far-right, anti-immigrant group when he spoke with its leader on the phone last week, and courted members' support.
Mr. Bernier confirmed to The Globe and Mail that he spoke with Travis Patron, leader of the Canadian Nationalist Party, a marginal group that advocates for low immigration numbers and the ability to block immigrants based on their race or ethnicity.
Mr. Bernier, the former Conservative MP who quit the party late last month, calling it "intellectually and morally corrupt," is expected to announce details of his new political party at a news conference in Ottawa on Friday, where he will unveil the name and structure.
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Mr. Bernier said he has spoken to both Mr. Patron and the Libertarian Party of Canada about his new political venture, which will be based on the policies of his failed Conservative leadership bid.
“[Mr. Patron] called me and I returned [his] call, and like the Libertarian Party, they wanted to offer me help to build my party. And so I said, ‘You know, the first step for me is to build my own party and I’m going forward with that,’ ” Mr. Bernier told The Globe on Monday.
“I thank you for your help, I thank you for your support, but we’ll go ahead with our party and if you can help or if some of your people can help and share the same values, and being a member of my party, that will be great.’”
When asked whether he was aware of the group and what it stands for, Mr. Bernier said, “No.” But he agreed that the party proposes to significantly limit the number of newcomers to Canada, and that Mr. Patron urged him to take a more hard-line stand on immigration. “He asked me for that, and I said no. I won’t change," Mr. Bernier said. "I’m going to have a new party that will promote the ideas that I promoted during the leadership.”
Mr. Bernier said he directed Mr. Patron to the leadership platform on his website, which included a pledge to reduce the number of immigrants from 300,000 to 250,000 a year.
“He told me that it’s too much,” Mr. Bernier said. “I say no, this is my policy, this is what the party will promote."
Mr. Bernier said he had never visited the group’s website. Mr. Patron, however, suggested otherwise.
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In an e-mail blast to supporters on Monday, Mr. Patron said he and Mr. Bernier discussed "his new party, immigration policy, and future correspondence moving forward regarding the Canadian Nationalist Party."
“Maxime was aware of our party. He already knew who we were, who I was, and he was familiar with our platform,” Mr. Patron wrote.
Mr. Patron’s group has been unable to attract the 250 registered members necessary to become recognized as an official party. He has held events across the country, and has attempted to hold rallies for his cause, but has generally been blocked from doing so. In July, Saskatoon rejected his application to hold a rally. A letter from the city, sent to Mr. Patron, stated that his rally was not an event it considered “of interest and benefit to the public at large.”
Mr. Patron also said that, during their call, Mr. Bernier said the Safe Third Country Agreement, which allows asylum seekers who arrive at unofficial border crossings to remain in Canada while their refugee applications are processed, should be respected.
Mr. Patron also claims Mr. Bernier was open to meeting with him to discuss immigration, but Mr. Bernier told The Globe he doesn’t have the time.