The country has rejected its first offering of modern right-wing populism at the federal level, denying Maxime Bernier and his People’s Party of Canada a single seat in Parliament.
Mr. Bernier lost Beauce, the Quebec riding he’d held since 2006, with voters favouring Conservative Richard Lehoux. The party’s share of the popular vote stood at just 1.6 per cent as early polls began rolling in from across the country.
Despite those results, Mr. Bernier vowed to keep the party alive in a Monday night concession speech. “I accept with humility and I want to congratulate the new member,” he said “This is only the beginning for the People’s Party of Canada.”
The poor showing is a potentially fatal setback for a fledgling party that, in its earliest stages, seemed poised to steal a substantial share of support from the Conservatives, the party Mr. Bernier had served under for 12 years and nearly led.
In 2017, he lost a close leadership contest to Andrew Scheer. Tapped as the party’s innovation critic, he refused to hide his displeasure with the party’s positions under Mr. Scheer, even penning an unreleased book that accused “fake conservatives” affiliated with the dairy lobby of tilting the leadership race in Mr. Scheer’s favour. In tweets, he ramped up his anti-immigration rhetoric and warned of “extreme multiculturalism.”
On the first day of the 2018 Conservative policy convention in Halifax, the former leadership contender announced he was leaving the party and unleashed a scathing attack against Mr. Scheer.
“I am now convinced that what we will get if Andrew Scheer becomes prime minister is just a more moderate version of the disastrous Trudeau government," he said, in an announcement that upstaged the convention.
One early poll suggested 17 per cent of Canadian voters would be consider backing the party. His policy positions on an array of issues drew comparisons with Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, Matteo Salvini and other European populists who’ve parlayed anti-immigrant, anti-liberal views into substantial support.
But such a bloc never materialized for Mr. Bernier. Early enthusiasm melted once voters got better acquainted with the party and its candidates.
Three party founders were found to have ties to white supremacist groups and several candidates were outed for racist or sexist social-media posts, feeding the perception of his party as a haven for right-wing fringe elements.
His policies failed to garner much enthusiasm either. His pledges to phase out of supply management in the dairy sector, withdraw from climate change agreements, slash immigration levels, cancel equalization payments and defund CBC drew little support. Polling over the last five months showed his national support rarely broke 3 per cent.
Amid flagging support, the party received a mid-campaign lifeline from the commission overseeing official debates when it ruled that Mr. Bernier could participate in both French and English debates, a decision that placed Mr. Bernier alongside the major party leaders before millions of potential voters.
His performance, however, did little to win over new voters, with just 3 per cent of viewers of the English debate considering him the victor, according to one poll.
In the final days of the race, The Globe reported that a firm run by former Liberal adviser Warren Kinsella had been hired to “seek and destroy” Mr. Bernier and his party. Mr. Scheer refused to say if his party had hired Mr. Kinsella.
In response to the story, Mr. Bernier filed a complaint with Elections Canada. “This is the kind of dirty politics that fuels Canadians’ cynicism about politics,” he said.