What future for populism in Canada?

The growth in votes garnered by Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party of Canada in the last federal election surprised many. But how to interpret it? And what does it foreshadow? The duty spoke with Katryne Villeneuve-Siconnelly, doctoral student in political science at Laval University, whose research focuses on populism in the country. Interview by Isabelle Porter.

the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) received 5% of the vote in the last election, compared to 1.6% in the previous election. Is this growth set to continue?

Several elections will still be necessary to know if this is a flash in the pan or if this trend is lasting. It must be said that this is not the first time that a populist party has entered Canadian politics. There have been other examples in the past, such as Social Credit, the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (FCC) and the Reform Party. On the other hand, it is rare for parties of this kind to last long: either they are replaced by other parties, or they collapse.

In addition, we can certainly be surprised by the percentage of votes collected by the PPC in Canada, but the fact remains that Maxime Bernier was not elected in his own constituency: this shows that there is still reluctance towards the most extreme parties.

What did the last federal campaign tell us about populism in Canada?

We used to see the form it took elsewhere in the world. But here, we can see how it can be articulated in our context.

Maxime Bernier’s speech of defeat, for example, was very revealing and contained many characteristics of populism. He was addressing the “real people”, people who do not feel represented. He often over-simplified subjects, aimed at scapegoats (such as economic elites), spoke ofimmigration not durable. He describes himself as the only real alternative in Canada, and therefore claims a monopoly on the representation of the “real world”.

Can this be seen as a prelude to what happened with Donald Trump in the USA ?

I wouldn’t be ready to say this because, again, while PPC has found a niche with the pandemic, most people don’t take it seriously. The vein of the extreme right, it is quite rare that it has been a winner in Canada or Quebec on the electoral plan.

You speak of “extreme right”, but can we really call the PPC an extreme party law ?

It’s always difficult to compare the far right from one country to another, because the right in Quebec and Canada is not at all the same right as in France or the United States. From another country’s point of view, the right here may look near the center. So it’s hard to say that the PPC is on the far right, but it is clearly more to the right than the others. This can be seen in its relationship with institutions in general, but also with regard to health measures in particular.

How can we explain that the party is more successful in rural areas?

Rural areas are generally more conservative than urban areas. And people often feel more isolated, little represented.

Does this movement need the pandemic to progress?

These movements have been around for a long time, but they have always needed a stake to strengthen themselves, be it immigration, globalization …

Can we draw parallels between the PPC and Éric Duhaime’s Conservative Party of Quebec?

As part of the pandemic, both have tended to attack institutions, elites, checks and balances (like the media) and intellectuals. But here, there is a paradox because, like many populists, they reject the elites, but themselves come from this world: the political elite for Bernier; the media elite for Duhaime.

In addition, both over-simplify the stakes to rally as many people as possible. Finally, both have a rapidly growing membership base at a time when that of the major parties is in decline. And both say they represent the “real world”.

What does this send as a signal to other political parties?

Ironically, that testifies to the vitality of democracy, because we question a lot of things, and it makes it possible to mobilize people who would not otherwise be mobilized. On the other hand, there is a lot of risk of drift.

What to expect in this context, for the Quebec elections of 2022?

We will have to watch how the other parties behave with Eric Duhaime’s Conservative Party. They will still have to listen to it, because if the party and its members are singled out and discredited by the political class, it risks reinforcing their feeling of legitimacy, their raison d’être.

Even if we don’t agree with them, we should still listen to them and not humiliate them. Because to do otherwise could give even more echo to an option like this one.

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