Bernier getting riding officials in his new party to sign 'no embarrassment' pledge

In an effort to avoid unwanted controversy, Maxime Bernier's new political party is requiring all riding association officials to sign a pledge saying they won't "embarrass" the party. Officials also must vow not to steer the People's Party of Canada in a different direction.

'We're trying to do whatever we can to avoid trouble,' says party spokesman

People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier is trying to avoid unwanted controversy by having riding association officials promise in writing not to 'embarrass' the party. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

In an effort to keep troublemakers at a distance, Maxime Bernier's new party is asking all riding association members to sign a pledge promising not to bring the fledgling People's Party of Canada into disrepute.

"I pledge that I have done or said nothing in the past, and will do or say nothing in the future, that would embarrass the party," reads a copy of the pledge provided to CBC News by the party.

While some parties do ask aspiring political candidates to sign similar oaths, the People's Party (PPC) is going a step beyond that by asking riding officials — people who typically have little or no official contact with the general public — to sign the pledge.

The document, described as a "safeguard" by one PPC official, speaks to the party's anxiety about the prospect of supporters with extreme views tarnishing its image.

"We're taking measures to make sure people who have done weird things in the past, or done bad things in the past, will stay away from us," PPC spokesperson Martin Masse told CBC News.

How do you define 'embarrass'?

The document itself doesn't say specifically what kind of actions might "embarrass" the party. Masse offered a few examples.

He cited Alberta United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney's recent move to boot a former campaign worker from the party after reports suggested the man had supported white nationalist and anti-Semitic views. One report said he was involved with an online store that sold memorabilia popular with white supremacists.

Masse also cited reporting by CBC News on the challenges the PPC has faced in keeping up with offensive and off-message comment online.

"We're trying to do whatever we can to avoid trouble," said Masse.

Keeping the party on track

The pledge also requires every riding association member to provide a resume, a criminal record check and list of social media accounts. It warns that a "specialized firm" will do background checks on everyone signing the pledge.

Another portion of the pledge reflects the unique nature of Bernier's new party. Since it's the brainchild of the Beauce MP himself — and not the product of a movement or a particular school of political thought — the PPC's policies are Maxime Bernier's policies. In signing the pledge, riding association members agree to not attempt to change those policies.

The pledge commits them to adhering to the party's fundamental values, principles "and most of its platform," and to not using their "position to steer the party in another direction."

Masse said the document is a tool to help the party avoid "unnecessary controversies."

"Mr. Bernier has been very clear since the beginning that he will not let groups of people who do not share the values and principles he has been defending for more than a decade hijack the party ..."

PPC members not troubled by pledge

CBC News spoke with three riding association members who signed the pledge when they took on leadership roles with the party in Saskatchewan.

The president of the Saskatoon-Grasswood PPC association, Jeff Jackson, said he'd been aware of the pledge since shortly after party meetings began and signed it without hesitation.

He said the PPC's project — putting a new party together in time for an election in less than a year — is hard to accomplish.

"I think what this pledge is doing is trying to help make sure that there's some quality control here," Jackson said.

He acknowledged the 'embarrassment' clause is quite open-ended, but added he thinks it simply commits association members to employing common sense and decency in everything they do.

Nigel Sharp, a south Saskatchewan PPC field organizer, said he sees the need to keep PPC officials from distracting from the party's message. As an example, he cited the party's stated goal of reducing the annual immigration total to 250,000.

"If we had a candidate that was talking about, you know, deporting all Hindus or something like that, that'd obviously be grounds for removal," Sharp said.

Victor Lau told CBC over Facebook that he signed the pledge, but admitted to not having read it over fully since he was in a rush at the time.

No 'embarrassment' clause for other parties

CBC News asked the three largest federal parties if their riding association members were being required to sign 'embarrassment' pledges.

The Conservatives do have a similar pledge — but it's only for potential candidates.

"Is there anything in your personal, professional or business background that could cause embarrassment for the Party, hinder your ability to perform, adversely affect your candidacy or the Party, or demonstrate a lack of integrity, if it became public knowledge during the campaign or if you should become a Member of Parliament?" reads the text provided by the party to CBC News.

A Conservative Party spokesperson said nothing similar exists for riding association members, although there has been some talk of drafting a code of conduct.

The Liberal Party does not require riding association members to sign any kind of pledge, but the party's bylaws for electoral district associations, or EDAs, do insist on good behaviour.

"The members of EDA Boards of Directors must behave in accordance with the Party Code of Conduct and, without limiting the foregoing, conduct themselves according to the highest standards and in a manner that will not be detrimental to the interests and reputation of the Liberal Party of Canada," says one bylaw.

As for political candidates, a Liberal spokesperson pointed to nomination rules that require a candidate to uphold the party's constitution and its "Respectful Workplace Policy."

The NDP said all of its members are required to abide by the party's constitution and principles. When potential candidates are screened, they're asked about their involvement in anything irregular or illegal, or anything that could reflect poorly on the NDP.

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