People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier expected to attend Manitoba anti-lockdown events this weekend
Winkler's mayor concerned event will stoke division in already divided community
People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier is expected to speak at events opposing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in Manitoba this weekend, in spite of public health orders that ban large events and require people to self-isolate when entering the province if they're not fully vaccinated.
Bernier's itinerary includes a stop at a rally in Winkler Friday, which the mayor of the small city, about 100 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, says is the last thing his community needs right now.
Meanwhile, a business owner in another Manitoba community says he was surprised to learn his hotel was one of the stops originally planned on Bernier's tour of southern Manitoba, and he doesn't want to be associated with it.
Current public health orders in Manitoba prohibit all outdoor gatherings. Slightly relaxed restrictions in place as of Saturday will limit gatherings in public spaces to a maximum of five people.
Bernier has attended other rallies across the country that have voiced opposition to COVID-19 regulations.
A Facebook post with a list of planned stops in Manitoba, titled the "Mad Max Manitoba Tour," says Bernier is planning to attend a rally in Winkler Friday evening, after stops in the southern Manitoba communities of Niverville and Morden, among others.
Winkler Mayor Martin Harder said he's worried Bernier will further divide his city, which has seen relatively low COVID-19 vaccination rates, and inflame tempers within entrenched camps.
"I look at the controversy, I look at the low level of vaccination rates that we have here, a high number of cases that we have here and personally, I just feel it's very inappropriate to be able to come in and create even further havoc," he said.
"The ones that are hard-lined [about vaccination and pandemic restrictions] are still hard-lined, and the ones that are critical of the hard-liners are still critical of the hard-liners. So it's a very delicate place to be," said Harder.
"Certainly I'm finding it very difficult to be here as a mayor for all the people and understanding the … very, very divisive issues that separate the two groups."
- Mistrust, religion, fear of side-effects feed COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy in Winkler and Morden, residents say
An early version of Bernier's tour itinerary was posted to Facebook this week and showed stops at multiple businesses, including the La Salle River Inn in La Salle, just south of Winnipeg, on Saturday.
But the hotel's owner, Drew Howard, said he had no idea the party leader was planning an event at his business.
He said someone messaged him about the post. That prompted him to call the RCMP and the province, he says, because he didn't want a large group of people gathering at his business — something that would be prohibited under the current public health orders.
"We went to every measure that we could with the authorities to find out how we could prevent this from actually happening," he said.
LISTEN | Hotel owner surprised to find business on Maxime Bernier's list of tour stops:
A spokesperson for the People's Party of Canada told CBC News there was a misunderstanding with its Manitoba chapter and the party is working on a new itinerary.
An updated itinerary does not list the La Salle River Inn as one of the stops on Bernier's tour, but says Bernier is still planning on stopping at La Barriere Park in La Salle on Saturday, before heading to Lorette and then to a rally planned in Winnipeg.
A spokesperson for the province told CBC it's aware of the planned rallies and will be conducting surveillance to gather video and other evidence.
Provincial officials have reached out to organizers to communicate gathering size limits and reinforce the 14-day self-isolation rules for any participants coming into Manitoba, the spokesperson said.
At a news conference to announce Manitoba's reopening plan on Thursday morning, Premier Brian Pallister said if Bernier plans on violating the public health orders, "he's going to be light in the pocket book."
An individual can be fined $1,296 for a first violation of public health orders in Manitoba.
"I'd suggest he not violate the public health orders, but of course I'm not going to be involved in the enforcement, nor should I," said Pallister.
WATCH: Premier Brian Pallister on Bernier's planned tour of Manitoba:
The People's Party of Canada spokesperson did not respond to questions about whether Bernier will follow the province's mandatory self-isolation guidelines when he comes to Manitoba.
Bernier, however, responded to Pallister's comments on Twitter, saying "the Manitoba despot is threatening me."
The Manitoba despot is threatening me:<br><br>At a news conference to announce Manitoba's reopening plan on Thursday morning, Premier Brian Pallister said if Bernier plans on violating the public health orders, "he's going to be light in the pocket book."<a href="https://t.co/3rudlv4DGp">https://t.co/3rudlv4DGp</a>—@MaximeBernier