Vaccines, youtubers and rebellion: Maxime Bernier’s online strategy

The People’s Party (PPC) of Maxime Bernier has seen its support almost double in the polls since the start of the election campaign, despite the little media attention it has received so far. A successful gain thanks to social media, according to experts.

It was after the leaders’ debates on September 8 and 9 that the PPC really took off, peaking at 6.7% on September 12, according to the CBC News poll aggregator. However, its leader had not even participated in the said debates, since his party did not meet the criteria in terms of voting intentions.

“We are very happy that Mr. Bernier was not there; it helped us, ”says PPC spokesperson Martin Masse, who is very critical of the format of the event and the questions asked.

“The debates were an opportunity for many people who are ready to support Maxime Bernier to see that it is only him who has certain positions”, since Erin O’Toole has begun a “refocusing” of his party, adds Philippe Dubois, doctoral student in political science and researcher specializing in the use of social media for political purposes.

Indeed, the PPC is now the only one to say it wants to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, remove restrictions on firearms and, above all, fully support those who do not wish to receive the vaccine against COVID-19.

“He comes to reassure a lot of people already mobilized online and I think that it gives him an exceptional boost so that his message circulates […], it benefits a little from this ecosystem ”which developed on social media during the pandemic, explains Mr. Dubois.

According to a Leger-The Canadian Press poll released in August, almost one in ten Canadians refuse to be vaccinated.

Online presence

“Without being able to have airtime on traditional media, he makes very good use of social media,” according to Bruno Guglielminetti, consultant in digital communication strategy. Anyway, “people who think like him, they don’t get their information from the mainstream media; they “do their research” on the internet, and that’s where he will go to them ”.

“We had no choice” to speak directly to people, says Masse, who considers to have been “completely ignored” by the media.

As of Tuesday, Mr. Bernier had more than 150,000 followers on Twitter, more thanYves-Francois Blanchet and Annamie Paul together, and almost as much as Erin O’Toole.

“Whether it’s YouTubers, Facebook pages of people who think like that, discussion groups […], that’s what makes him appear on people’s radar at some point, ”Guglielminetti says.

Mr. Bernier’s hour-long interview with Mikhaila Peterson, a blogger who promotes a diet that she says has resulted in “complete remission” from her depression, bipolar disorder and Lyme disease, garnered over 100,000 views on YouTube, despite its long format. Its visibility has also had a boost with the recruitment of YouTuber David Freiheit (alias “Viva Frei”), candidate in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce-Westmount, who reaches more than 380,000 subscribers on his channel. But it’s his impending interview with controversial Professor Jordan Peterson that is expected to have the biggest impact, with as many as 4 million subscribers on YouTube.

Walkabout baths

Still, his campaign isn’t limited to social media. Walkabouts, avoided by other chefs due to the pandemic, are now part of its brand image. Dozens, if not hundreds, of people attend its gatherings, both outdoors and indoors, and rarely wearing masks.

“It allows him to recover these images and redeploy them in the digital space”, where his jubilant crowds contrast with the more sanitized creations of other parties, thinks Mr. Dubois.

His more “populist” approach is “very much inspired by American conservative campaigns,” says Guglielminetti, citing the Tea Party example.

In a video posted on September 5, Bernier recites a speech by John F. Kennedy, as one of his supporters on stage flaunts a Gadsden flag, an emblem of the American Revolution later adopted by the far right. libertarian.

It is in the traditionally conservative provinces that Maxime Bernier collects the most support, with 8.7% of the voting intentions in Alberta and 8.3% in the Prairies, as of Tuesday. He is lagging behind in his native Quebec, with only 4.3%.

This article was produced with the financial support of the Facebook and The Canadian Press News Scholarships.

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