Maxime Bernier excluded from initial invitations to leaders' election debates

The Leaders' Debate Commission has invited the leaders of five political parties to participate with the notable exception of People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier — who has been left off the list, at least for now.

'Canadians have the right to hear' People's Party policies, Bernier says

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, left, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May and New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair listen as Conservative Leader Stephen Harper speaks during the first leaders' debate of the 2015 election campaign. (Mark Blinch/Reuters)

The Leaders' Debate Commission, the body organizing two major federal election debates, has invited the leaders of five political parties to participate with the notable exception of People's Party Leader Maxime Bernier.

He has been left off the list, at least for now.

Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet, Conservative Party Leader Andrew Scheer, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh have secured tickets to the Oct. 7 English-language debate and the French-language affair on Oct. 10.

These debates will be carried by a consortium of major television broadcasters, including CBC.

In a letter to Bernier, David Johnston, the former governor general and the commissioner of the debate organizing group, said that the People's Party has not yet met one of the criteria to participate in the televised debates, namely that the party isn't represented in the House of Commons by an MP who was elected as a member of that party. Bernier was elected as a Conservative in 2015 before leaving to start his new party after a failed Tory leadership run.

Beyond that, Johnston said a survey of recent opinion polls — including the CBC News Poll Tracker — led him to conclude that the People's Party would have a difficult time actually getting one of its candidates elected in the Oct. 21 election.

According to the poll tracker, if the election were held today, the People's Party is projected to win zero or one seat based on its current 3.1 per cent polling average.

(CBC News)

"At this time in the electoral cycle, we do not consider that the People's Party of Canada has a legitimate chance of electing more than one candidate in the next federal election," Johnston said in a letter to Bernier explaining his decision to keep him out of debates.

"The commission has consulted available opinion polls, riding projection sites and independent pollsters. None of these sources project, at this time, that the People's Party of Canada has a legitimate chance to elect more than one candidate," Johnston said.

Johnston said the decision to exclude Bernier could be reversed if the party submits a list of three to five ridings where the party believes it is most likely to elect a candidate — and then, Johnston said, the debate commission would conduct independent polling of its own in those ridings to verify that Bernier's chosen candidate has a reasonable chance of winning that seat.

In a statement to CBC News, Bernier said relying on current polling data is unfair given how well populist parties in other Western democracies have fared in recent elections.

Bernier said the People's Party has an "excellent chance for rapid growth" if Canadians get a chance to hear the party's message, which includes a promise to end supply management in the agricultural sector, do away with corporate welfare and significantly reduce legal immigration, among other right-wing policy proposals.

People's Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier speaks from a podium at an announcement in Toronto on June 21, 2019. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)

"The PPC represents a unique perspective, and is the only party that offers distinct policy positions on several topics that are at the heart of political debates, including immigration, climate change, freedom of expression, corporate welfare, foreign aid, supply management, and many other topics. The PPC's positions are similar to those of a large minority, or even a majority of Canadians, on these issues.

"Canadians have the right to hear views that differ from those of established parties," Bernier said.

The commission will make a final decision on whether to include Bernier by Sept. 16.

Party leaders must meet at least two of three criteria to participate in the debates. The criteria are:

1. The party is represented in the House of Commons by a member of Parliament who was elected as a member of that party;

2. The commissioner considers that the party intends to endorse candidates in at least 90 per cent of electoral districts in the general election in question;

3.  The party's candidates for the most recent general election received at that election at least four per cent  of the number of valid votes cast;  or,

Based on the recent political context, public opinion polls and previous general election results, the commissioner considers that candidates endorsed by the party have a legitimate chance to be elected in the general election in question.

May qualifies for participation in the debates because the Green Party has at least one elected sitting member and it intends to field candidates in 90 per cent of the ridings.


John Paul Tasker

Senior reporter

J.P. Tasker is a journalist in CBC's parliamentary bureau who reports for digital, radio and television. He is also a regular panellist on CBC News Network's Power & Politics. He covers the Conservative Party, Canada-U.S. relations, Crown-Indigenous affairs, climate change, health policy and the Senate. You can send story ideas and tips to J.P. at john.tasker@cbc.ca.