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Ever since the runner-up to Andrew Scheer in the 2017 Conservative Party leadership race quit the party a year ago – claiming it was “too intellectually and morally bankrupt to be reformed” – I’ve wondered whether Maxime Bernier is for real.

Or whether Mr. Bernier’s real problem with his former party was not so much its moral and intellectual probity, but rather the marginal role Mr. Scheer had reserved within it for his ex-leadership rival. After all, the Beauce MP has always loved the spotlight just a little too much.

Mr. Bernier had long espoused free-market economic policies, including the abolition of supply management in Canada’s dairy industry, that not even the Conservative Party could swallow. To add insult to injury, Mr. Scheer had bested him in the leadership race by courting Quebec dairy farmers in a rather unbecoming display of old-style brokerage politics.

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Since he launched his People’s Party of Canada, however, Mr. Bernier has seemed willing to say anything for attention. He has become a reckless provocateur more than a serious politician. He has opened his party to fringe elements that a responsible leader would reject. He employs the kind of hyperbole that distorts and degrades political debate by flushing it of all nuances.

Mr. Bernier’s party did not pay for the billboards that recently went up in several cities calling on Canadians to “Say NO to Mass Immigration.” But they certainly echoed the message the PPC Leader has been spreading. A third-party advertiser paid for the ads, which featured Mr. Bernier’s photo and the PPC logo, before disavowing them amid a public outcry.

The company that owned the billboards, Pattison Outdoor Advertising, then announced it would remove the ads in a bid to end the controversy. Instead, it ended up giving Mr. Bernier the soapbox he craved, one worth countless times the $60,000 that the ads cost.

“The message on the billboard is not ‘controversial’ for two thirds of Canadians who agree with it, and for those who disagree but support free speech and an open discussion. It’s only controversial for the totalitarian leftist mob who want to censor it,” Mr. Bernier tweeted on Monday, in an attempt to portray himself as a victim of political correctness.

Don’t feel sorry for Mr. Bernier. Neither his right to free speech, nor that of any member of his party, is threatened by what was by all accounts a business decision made by Pattison. The company had every right to dissociate itself from an ad campaign that harmed its reputation.

By evoking the spectre of “mass” immigration, which he has has done on repeated occasions, Mr. Bernier seeks to exploit the same resentment among a segment of the Canadian population toward newcomers that U.S. President Donald Trump has so successfully tapped south of the border. Mr. Bernier has depicted immigrants as freeloaders and a burden on taxpayers, despite reams of evidence to the contrary. It’s ugly, disingenuous and un-Canadian.

“I can understand why immigrants would want to bring the rest of their extended family here, including older ones who will benefit from our health-care system. But we cannot be the welfare state of the planet,” Mr. Bernier said at a July 24 PPC rally in Mississauga, at which he again blamed mass immigration for inflating housing prices in our biggest cities, even though land-use restrictions play an equal or bigger role driving up house prices in urban Canada.

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We can have a debate about whether the Liberal government’s plan to boost annual immigration levels to 350,000 in 2021 is good for the country. Ottawa’s target for 2019 is 330,000 immigrants, though it’s unlikely to meet that goal given Quebec’s move to accept fewer immigrants this year. Either way, Canada is not experiencing “mass” immigration.

The number of newcomers accepted annually still amounts to less than 1 per cent of Canada’s population at a time when the ratio of working-age Canadians to retirees is falling rapidly. Many experts argue that Canada needs to accept far more immigrants if the country is to avoid a demographically driven economic decline in coming decades. Mr. Bernier’s proposal to cut immigration levels to between 100,000 and 150,000 would accelerate that decline.

Canada has flourished precisely because of its enlightened immigration policies, according to which most immigrants are chosen based on a points system, rather than on a first-come-first-serve basis. Only about a quarter of immigrants arrive under family reunification provisions.

First-generation immigrants and second-generation Canadians integrate faster and more successfully here than almost anywhere else. If you live in one of Canada’s big cities, you see it in your workplace, on the bus or subway, at the multiplex and in your neighbourhood.

My guess is Mr. Bernier knows all this, too, which makes his opportunistic courting of those who don’t all the more deplorable.

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