People's Party and Mavericks attack Conservative stronghold in B.C.
Anti-hate group warns of rise in populist sentiments from PPC candidates, supporters
For five decades, the Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies riding in northeastern B.C. has been a conservative stronghold, reliably electing right-leaning candidates. But now the Conservative Party under Erin O'Toole is being attacked as too left-leaning and beholden to Ontario and Quebec by a pair of new parties.
They hope to gain ground in the area they envision as friendly to their respective ideologies despite one party prompting warnings from Canadian anti-hate groups.
"In almost any way that matters to conservative voters, [the Conservatives] aren't conservative any more," said Ryan Dyck, a Fort St. John businessman running for the People's Party of Canada in the riding, which includes a portion of Prince George and extends east to Alberta and north to Yukon.
Dyck cited O'Toole's support for reproductive rights as well as his reverse course on a promise to repeal Liberal gun laws as two key reasons he can no longer support the party he's voted for in years past.
Dyck is one of two candidates in the riding trying to poach right-leaning voters away from the Conservatives. The other is Dave Jeffers, a businessman who also feels the O'Toole Conservatives have lost their way and is pitching the new Maverick Party as a better alternative.
Unlike the People's Party, which is running candidates across the country, the Mavericks are taking a cue from the Bloc Québécois and the defunct Reform Party by homing in on western provinces who they feel aren't adequately represented in Ottawa.
"The problem with having a national party is that every party has to placate Ontario and Quebec to win, which means you have to sacrifice the values of the west every time," Jeffers said. "The Maverick Party will not run a candidate east of Manitoba."
There are differences between the People's Party and the Mavericks. Both parties oppose a price on carbon, but while the People's Party disagrees with decades of research indicating climate change is human-caused, the Maverick platform says they believe in the need to reduce carbon emissions through other means.
And while the PPC falsely scapegoats immigrants as a burden on the Canadian economy, the Mavericks view newcomers as a net benefit to the Canadian economy and society, while pushing for more provincial control over immigration policy.
Fareed Khan, the founder of Canadians United Against Hate, says the populist bent the People's Party is using to gain support is a dangerous trend.
PPC promotes anti-vaccine anger
Khan describes the party's platform as "bigoted."
In addition to anti-immigrant rhetoric, Khan said the party is opposed to banning conversion therapy. Conversion therapy attempts to change people's sexual orientation or gender identity through methods described by survivors as "psychological torture."
Khan said the party seems to be tapping into anger similar to what was seen in the Republican Party under Donald Trump in order to win support.
A campaign manager with the People's Party was fired after he was criminally charged with throwing gravel at Justin Trudeau.
"There is a tinderbox out there and they are a spark ready to pour gasoline onto the anger that's out there," said Kahn. "I think it is a serious danger to our political culture. It would be folly for us not to take that seriously."
The People's Party has spoken out against COVID-19 restrictions and drawn criticism for comparing public health measures to residential schools and the Holocaust.
On Wednesday, the B.C. Assembly of First Nations called for a PPC candidate in Vancouver Quadra to be removed after she distributed flyers comparing the horrors of residential schools, where thousands of children were physically, sexually and mentally abused, to having to show proof of vaccination in order to enter restaurants and gyms.
Elsewhere, People's Party supporters have been condemned for comparing vaccine cards to the yellow stars used by Nazi Germany to identify Jews.
Maverick candidate encourages vaccination, opposes mandates
While Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies PPC candidate Ryan Dyck helped organize a protest outside the Prince George hospital and has spoken out against COVID-19 vaccinations, Maverick Dave Jeffers has consistently encouraged people to get vaccinated. Both candidates, however, say they are opposed to B.C.'s vaccine card program.
Jeffers hopes the idea of a centre-right, western-oriented party will appeal to a region that in 1993 turfed its two-decade relationship with the Progressive Conservatives in favour of Reform Party candidate Jay Hill. Hill went on to represent the riding under both the Canadian Alliance and the Conservatives before retiring in 2010.
But now Hill is back on the political scene, as the leader of the Maverick Party and campaigning on behalf of Jeffers in his old riding, as well as throughout Conservative strongholds in Alberta. People's Party leader Maxime Bernier has also visited the riding several times, trying to drum up support for his party which failed to elect a single candidate in 2019.
Both parties will have a long way to go, however, if they want to unseat incumbent Bob Zimmer. First elected in 2011, the Conservative candidate fielded 70 per cent of the popular vote in the 2019 election, far outshining the second-place Liberals who received just 12 per cent.
When asked to respond to criticisms the Conservatives are no longer representing western conservative values, Zimmer cast back to 2004 when Stephen Harper, leading a united conservative movement, started making headway against the Liberals and eventually became Prime Minister from 2006 to 2015.
"It was only when conservatives were united that we had the chance to form government and make a difference for western Canadians and Canadians across the country."