Maxime Bernier stands by Ontario PPC candidate who published racist, transphobic tweets
'I was very happy that he apologized for that and he said that he made a mistake,' says People's Party leader
People's Party of Canada (PPC) Leader Maxime Bernier confirmed Thursday that Essex riding PPC candidate Bill Capes will continue his Parliamentary run, despite racist and transphobic tweets published by the candidate earlier this year.
Some of Capes's tweets published earlier in March included references to stereotypes pertaining to individuals of Asian, African and Caribbean descent.
Other tweets made reference to "Mother Nature" ruling on gender identity, as well as comments about a Somali janitor and being a "proud white dude hiding in plain sight in a hijab."
Though Capes initially denied he wrote the tweets, saying it was possible someone might have hacked his account, he later confirmed the existence of the tweets in an interview with CBC News.
"I believe that all people are to be respected as equal and racism has no place in our society," said Capes. "I apologize for any remarks I made that were taken out of context and may have offended anyone."
Bernier said he was "very happy" Capes apologized.
"Everybody can do a mistake. The most important thing is to recognize that," said Bernier.
At no point, Bernier added, did he reconsider Capes's candidacy.
"After he apologized and after a discussion with him, he is a full member of our party, because he shares our values and that's the most important [thing]," said Bernier.
The PPC leader said his party conducted a background check on every candidate, as well as every riding association president.
"They had to sign a pledge for us in the beginning and that was important," Bernier said. "We were asking them they must share the values and they must be sure not to embarrass the party."
Bernier said political opponents try to paint his party as "extremists" because they don't want to hold substantive policy discussions.
"And I don't have to justify myself about that," he said. "People know Maxime Bernier. I'm in politics for the last 30 years, and I'm very proud of what I did as a politician."
Capes has since disabled his Twitter account.
'They may not have the vetting process'
According to Daniel Beland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, political parties typically check the social media accounts of almost anyone associated with the party — including volunteers, candidates and paid representatives.
"They ask them voluntarily to disclose the information, but they also do their own research on average," Beland said.
However, Beland said newer, smaller parties like the PPC might not have the necessary resources to carry out a full vetting process.
"It depends … like in the case of Windsor, we talk about a candidate for the People's Party, which is a new party, a part that doesn't have the resources, the infrastructure of other parties," he said. "So they may not have the vetting process that the Liberals, the Conservatives, the NDP, or perhaps even the Green Party have."
At the same time, Beland said it can be difficult to wade through past comments made over the space of 10 or 15 years.
"You might have said things that are controversial, and so the question is to know whether people will find out or not," he said. "So even if you ask your candidate to disclose and you ask them to sign forms and you look at their social media history, you might miss something."
'You never want to be the story'
Still, University of Windsor political science professor Lydia Miljan said the issue isn't relegated to smaller parties. Instead, local ridings in general might not be doing enough to vet their candidates.
"I think the national team has standards but at the end of the day it's still up to the local electoral district associations," said Miljan. "It really depends on how savvy they are and how willing they are to do the deep dive."
That 'deep dive' might miss things, especially if a riding chair isn't scrolling back on social media timelines, but Miljan said most people are taking a closer look at those platforms.
"I think that a lot of the political parties became a lot more astute with respect to investigating people's past social media behaviour," said Miljan.
Miljan added some people might be better at hiding their past than others.
"Eventually we know that it all gets back to you," said Miljan. "It's important for people to provide full disclosure and also for the local riding associations to make sure they are doing their due diligence."
According to Miljan, the first rule of running an election campaign is to never be the story.
"If the leaders spend time talking about rogue candidates, they're not talking about what they had planned for that day," said Miljan. "It takes them off their message."
Miljan said the damage has been done — especially since the PPC candidate appears to have deleted his Twitter account after Wednesday's backlash.
"He's been outed as somebody who has said racist and intolerant things in the past ... and they're not that long ago," said Miljan. "Shutting down your Twitter account doesn't take away the fact those things were said."
With files from Amy Dodge and Angelica Haggert