Maxime Bernier's People's Party claims 30,000 'founding members'
Bernier says his party will be in the debates in 2019 and contest byelections
Maxime Bernier has signed up just over 30,000 "founding members" of his People's Party of Canada, according to figures provided to CBC News.
Bernier, who finished second to Andrew Scheer in the 2017 Conservative leadership race, left his former party in the summer in order to set up his own political organization. The Quebec MP filed the papers to officially register his party with Elections Canada this month.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the People's Party claims to have signed up 30,077 members since Bernier announced its formation on Sept. 14.
There is no way to verify these numbers. Other parties generally don't release the total size of their membership, but in 2017 about 259,000 members were eligible to vote in the Conservative leadership race, while 124,000 were eligible to vote in the NDP contest that selected Jagmeet Singh as the party's new leader.
Broken down by province, the numbers provided by the People's Party suggest Bernier has been able to spread his appeal evenly across the country.
The party claims that it has 10,871 members in Ontario, 6,229 in Quebec, 4,822 in Alberta, 4,135 in British Columbia, and about 1,000 in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Just under 1,800 members come from the four Atlantic provinces.
We will focus our resources in ridings where we have a big chance to win. But where are these ridings? I don't know.— Maxime Bernier
These numbers suggest the party's membership base is drawn relatively proportionately from each region of Canada. The only region that is significantly out-performing its share of the population as a whole is Alberta, which has about 12 per cent of Canada's population but makes up 16 per cent of the People's Party membership.
As Alberta is the province where the Conservatives have their deepest base, this indicates the PPC membership is being drawn disproportionately from former Conservative supporters.
Interviewed in this week's episode of the Pollcast podcast, Bernier cited the example of a Newfoundland supporter who says he had voted NDP, before admitting that "the majority of people who are coming to us are Conservative people who want to have a leader who will fight for real conservative and free-market values."
Competing for votes with the Conservatives
But the membership numbers don't provide much of a clue as to where the People's Party might be in the running for winning seats or where its support is most concentrated. Bernier says he doesn't know either.
"When the time will come, we will focus our resources in ridings where we have a big chance to win. But where are these ridings? I don't know. We'll see. We're not there right now."
But a list of ridings where the party has the most members suggests that Bernier will be competing for votes with the Conservatives. Bernier's own Quebec riding of Beauce has the most, with 481 members. The rest of the list is populated with ridings concentrated in Conservative-friendly areas.
The party says it has more than 200 members in the Quebec City-area ridings of Lévis–Lotbinière, Louis-Saint-Laurent and Charlesbourg–Haute-Saint-Charles, as well as the Alberta ridings of Calgary Centre and Banff–Airdrie. Also on the list with just under 200 members are Ottawa Centre, Portneuf–Jacques-Cartier, Calgary Confederation and Edmonton–Wetaskiwin.
Bernier says he will be in the debates
On Tuesday, the Liberals announced their plan to set up an independent commission to organize two leaders' debates for the 2019 federal election, headed up by former governor general David Johnston. Both the New Democrats and Conservatives have criticized the government for leaving the opposition out of the process.
But Bernier is happy with it.
"They decided to do a commission and I think it's unusual, but the most important is that the criteria are there, and we are respecting that, and so we expect to be there."
The criteria for participation demand a party meet at least two of three requirements, including running candidates in at least 90 per cent of Canada's ridings and having a "legitimate chance" of winning seats.
"The party is in line with that criteria," says Bernier, "the most important one is to have candidates in every riding and that's what we want to do. That's what I said since the beginning, and we'll start to work on that in January."
Bernier says the party has already organized 101 riding associations, putting them on their way to his goal of having riding associations in all 338 electoral districts by the end of the year.
The party says it has created 28 electoral district associations in Ontario, 19 in B.C., 14 in Alberta, 12 in Saskatchewan — where they are only 14 ridings — and 11 in Quebec. The party also says it has EDAs in a majority of ridings in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Party will run in byelections, if timing is right
The party will begin nominating candidates in January, with the goal of having all of their candidates in place by June for the October 2019 election. Bernier says he will also present candidates in any byelections that are held after Dec. 11, when his party will be eligible to put a name on a ballot.
"I was very pleased this week when Justin Trudeau and the government decided to have only one byelection. If Justin Trudeau goes ahead with byelections after [Dec. 11], we will be able to have candidates and we will have candidates in every byelection."
That puts him at odds with the leaders of the Conservatives, New Democrats, Greens and Bloc Québécois, who signed a joint letter on Tuesday criticizing the government for calling a byelection in the riding of Leeds–Grenville–Thousand Islands and Rideau Lakes while leaving three other vacancies in the House of Commons unfilled.
'I think they are afraid of the competition'
Bernier sees politics in this critique.
"The Conservatives and Andrew Scheer, they didn't want us to be in a byelection," he says, "They were asking for having all the byelections right now, so I think they are afraid of the competition [from the People's Party]."
So far, however, the People's Party hasn't been very competitive. The PPC is sitting at just under one per cent support in the CBC's Poll Tracker. Bernier says he isn't concerned by the numbers.
"It's a new party, I created the party seven weeks ago. So people don't make the relation with Maxime Bernier and the People's Party. Our challenge and our goal and our strategy right now is to be sure that with the People's Party of Canada, people will make the link with Maxime Bernier as the leader."
As to where he would like to be in the polls when the campaign begins in 2019, "we'll see. But I think more than two per cent. If we are successful to do that link between my name and the party we can be at eight per cent or something like that."
"Our goal is to be out there, to speak about what we believe, and I think that we'll be able to be a big surprise in a year from now."