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Maxime Bernier speaks at a People's Party of Canada rally in Gatineau, Que.,. on Nov. 20, 2018.PATRICK DOYLE/The Canadian Press

Maxime Bernier says he will have candidates donning the People’s Party banner in coming federal by-elections – and his goal is to have a full slate of candidates across the country by the end of May.

The Leader of Canada’s newest political party said on Wednesday that his campaign team has been busy screening the party’s first-ever candidates in four ridings with vacant seats.

How those candidates perform will be the party’s first electoral test ahead of a general election scheduled for the fall. Mr. Bernier formed the right-wing People’s Party after he left the Conservative Party last summer. Mr. Bernier said his platform is about putting “Canadians first.” For him, that means shrinking the size of government, abolishing dairy supply management and cutting foreign aid.

Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer has been warning that a vote for Mr. Bernier’s party is a vote for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau because the People’s Party has the potential to split support among right-leaning voters and give Mr. Trudeau’s Liberals another electoral victory.

Mr. Trudeau is expected to call by-elections in the coming months in the Quebec riding of Outremont, the Ontario riding of York-Simcoe and in the British Columbia riding of Burnaby South. Mr. Bernier said his party already has potential candidates to run in the vacant B.C. riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith.

“We are working right now and we will approve the candidates soon so they will be ready to campaign for these by-elections,” Mr. Bernier said in an interview, adding he will help campaign in the races.

Mr. Bernier said he never would have guessed this time last year that he would quit the Conservative Party and call it “intellectually and morally corrupt.”

Last January, and in the months that followed, he was still trying to do what he could to pull Mr. Scheer on board with some of his ideas – mainly to phase out the supply-management system for dairy.

“I didn’t expect to be here right now with a new party and the leader of a new party with an organization all across the country,” he said.

A few months after launching his party, Mr. Bernier is preparing to run a full roster of candidates and bring his allies into the House of Commons with him.

In December, his party said it reached its goal of setting up riding associations in all 338 ridings. The next step, Mr. Bernier said, is ensuring there is a candidate representing all of them.

“We will work with riding associations all across the country to find good candidates and I can tell you that we’ll be able to achieve our goal to have candidates in every riding before the end of May."

Mr. Bernier also hopes having candidates in most ridings and showing that his party stands a legitimate chance to win seats will help his prospects of earning a spot in the federal leaders’ debates.

“I can tell you that I won’t be alone at the next Parliament,” he said.

And in addition to recruiting candidates, Mr. Bernier said his party is trying to raise enough money to run an effective campaign. So far, he said, his party has raised half a million dollars.

“People are ready to vote for, I think a new party, and a politician that will tell the truth and with no political correctness," he said. “We’re saying what needs to be said and I think there’s a future for us and I hope, so we’ll see what will happen.”

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