The Maverick Party has no interest in forming government, or even becoming the Official Opposition. It was only granted registered-party status from Elections Canada last week.
And even though its name feels like a conspicuous tie-in to the high-profile Top Gun sequel, interim Leader Jay Hill acknowledges when candidates go door-knocking, most who answer have never heard of them. “The greatest hurdle for us – and I’m just being completely honest here – is exposure,” he said.
But still, Mr. Hill optimistically believes his young party – a political outcropping of a western autonomy and independence movement that had just started gaining traction in the months before the pandemic hit – has a chance in Canada’s 44th election. With 28 total candidates (as of Friday) in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, he believes they will win several seats in the federal vote a month away. “We think we’re tapping into western alienation and frustration.”
The Maverick Party is part of a broader splintering of Conservative support in the West. It was created with the belief that national parties that must win votes in central Canada will never, once in government, give more than lip service to economic and political issues important to people in many areas of the West, especially those related to the oil and gas industry. That includes not only the traditional targets of the federal Liberals and NDP, but also the Conservatives – led by Erin O’Toole or anyone else.
To continue voting for the Conservative Party is “insanity,” said Mr. Hill, a former Reform and Conservative MP who once served as whip and government house leader for the Stephen Harper Conservatives.
“Conservatives will sell out the West if they believe it will win votes east of Manitoba.”
But the first step, said Mr. Hill, is to learn from Quebec, which has elected Bloc Québécois MPs representing only the province’s interests for decades.
“Federal governments are elected in central Canada by people who don’t think like us. And until the Maverick Party, there wasn’t a single federal party standing up for the West because there’s no reason why they should,” he said at the party’s virtual convention earlier this month.
“There’s a sizable common sense vote in central Canada,” Mr. Hill added. “But east of Manitoba, there are just too many people who think better of themselves if they can think less of their fellow Canadians,” he said, adding that westerners are often portrayed as “rednecks, cowboys, rig pigs – all rubes who drive pickup trucks.”
Calgary pollster Janet Brown said it’s going to be a tough climb for the Maverick Party to win any seats.
“It’s a relatively unknown political movement right now. It’s a short election campaign,” Ms. Brown said. The party may be able to bring in a decent vote in certain ridings, she said, “but it’s a real stretch at this point to think they would be in a position to win any of those ridings.”
The Maverick Party got its start as the cantankerous Wexit Party (and doesn’t have any formal affiliation to provincial Wexit parties) but has morphed into something resembling a more traditional political entity with the experienced Mr. Hill at the helm.
Mr. Hill, who held the Prince George-Peace River riding in B.C. from 1993 to 2010, says he intends to act as a mentor rather than a long-serving leader for the Maverick Party. He said he remembers lessons learned from the early Reform days – when party members spent thousands of hours writing and debating divisive policies that never came close to being implemented. He also said it was a mistake when the Reform party – with a slogan of “the West wants in” – decided to run candidates across the country.
Maverick party policies are Reform-ish, with a 2021 twist. Independence has to be an option, but isn’t necessarily the eventual goal. Mr. Hill said the party wants to attract voters from all sides of the “independent spectrum.”
There is emphasis on reforming equalization, opposing carbon taxes and federal energy policies, and gaining increased autonomy for western provinces in areas such as taxation, pension, health care, child care and gun laws. There’s also a push on building pipelines and defunding the CBC. Mr. Hill said the party is against mandatory vaccination for any group. “Canadians should have the freedom to decide what to put into their bodies.”
There’s also an attempt to avoid the fraught debate and criticism over social issues. The party’s policy platform specifically states that for now, “on issues including abortion, doctor-assisted suicide, and same-sex marriage, the Maverick party and its MPs commit to not bringing forward party or private member’s legislation on these public policies that reflect Canadians’ most deeply held personal values.”
Mr. Hill pointed out the party has six female candidates, as of Friday. The increasingly interesting race in Banff-Airdrie – where former Ontario MP Derek Sloan will run as an independent, after recently finding a place to live in Alberta – also features Maverick candidate Tariq Elnaga, an immigrant from the United Arab Emirates who feel in love with Western Canada a decade ago and now is vice-president of the Cochrane Roping Club.
The greatest concern Mr. Hill hears from potential voters is that his candidates could split the vote among Conservative voters, and give the NDP and the Liberals a win. But he said that’s not going to happen because he’s only running candidates in rural areas, small cities and the Calgary suburbs where the Conservatives won by massive majorities.
“The only vote-splitting that will take place is between us and a Conservative.”
But in Calgary, Ms. Brown said that voters who will consider supporting the Maverick party might be put off from doing so, should the Conservatives look as if they have a chance of forming the next government on Sept. 20 – because none of those potential supporters want to “inadvertently help Trudeau,” she said.
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