'The nastier side of populism': Why founding organizers are quitting Maxime Bernier's new party
'I'm heartbroken that this is what's happened,' says Angelo Isidorou
When Maxime Bernier broke away from the Conservatives last year and launched the People's Party of Canada, Angelo Isidorou thought he had finally found a political party he aligned with.
The 22-year-old University of British Columbia student immediately joined the fledging party as a campaign executive before it even had a name.
Isidorou explains that he was drawn to Bernier's libertarian values and as the leader of his campus free speech club, worried the Conservatives were straying from their political core.
"I thought, 'You know what? There's actually good opportunity here for a libertarian to actually have some power in government,'" Isidorou told Day 6 host Brent Bambury, citing the wide range of success of other populist parties throughout the world.
Bernier made a scorched-earth exit from the Conservatives last August, calling the party "too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed," and announced plans to start his own federal party.
The Quebec MP promised the goal of the People's Party of Canada (PPC) would be to shrink government, end Canada's supply management system and cut immigration numbers, among other things.
But in the months since, Isidorou says the party's strategy — particularly on social media — has taken a sharp turn, with a greater focus on social issues and candidates he describes as "crazies."
"We noticed that there were certain individuals attracted to the party for all the wrong reasons," Isidorou said.
However, he and his colleagues believed the PPC was just experiencing growing pains and would oppose "radical fringe" candidates with an official constitution.
That didn't happen, he explains.
"There's this notion that there could be a coalition between libertarians and staunch social conservatives and nativists and that couldn't be further from the truth."
Day 6 reached out to the PPC for comment, but did not hear back as of Friday.
However, speaking on CBC's Power and Politics in September, Bernier told host Vassy Kapelos, "Extreme people who are against immigration, they're not welcome in this party. And it's clear. I will have the privilege to choose the candidates that will run for this party and we'll choose people who share the values of our party."
The final straw
Isidorou helped create riding associations and became the temporary campaign manager for devout Christian, anti-abortion and anti-LBGT candidate, Laura-Lynn Tyler Thompson, in the Burnaby-South byelection.
Then Bernier delivered a speech in Halifax declaring that he would "make Canada great again" if elected prime minister, and Isidorou said he had seen enough.
"When he said that, it felt as though to the team, to the executives ... this is about clicks. This is about roars from the audience," he told Day 6. "It sort of showed us the nastier side of populism."
"The individuals now in control have decided to go down this path of, 'Let's talk about blackface on Twitter,' or just things like that that aren't good for the wider conversation."
Vancouver realtor Shannon Kewley worked alongside Isidorou on Bernier's campaign. She's a longtime supporter of the MP, having backed him as the Conservative leadership candidate in 2017 and again when he parted from the Tories.
"When you put Bernier and you put Scheer in front of me, and I listen to them both, my heart says the majority of people will vote for Bernier … He's charismatic," she explained.
But that changed in December when new staff and candidates — many she had never heard of in her two decades volunteering with political parties — joined the PPC.
Kewley said she was concerned by some of the comments the new PPC politicians made online.
"People sent me screenshots [of social media posts], or I've seen it on Twitter when I've gone in and checked there, and I'm quite shocked because this was not what Max wanted."
"It just all became very strange," she continued.
When Kewley asked Bernier questions about the party's strategy, she said he would pass them off to someone else. "There is no accountability to anybody," she said.
She resigned from the PPC in February, and Isidorou followed in March.
Kewley now volunteers for a handful of federal Conservative Party candidates in B.C.
'It's much, much darker'
Though Isidorou recognizes that some might see his free speech advocacy and the party's rhetoric as one in the same, Isidorou says there's a difference between conservative pundits like Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson — whom he supports — and the candidates that Bernier is backing.
"Neither Dr. Peterson nor Mr. Shapiro have said ... 'Let's make Muslims swim back to the Middle East,'" Isidorou argued, referring to now-deleted tweets allegedly written by Vancouver South PPC candidate Alain Deng. "These are things that candidates, new candidates of the party, have said.
"As someone who's really deep down in this rabbit hole of the culture on the right, I can tell you that it's really not the same. It's much much darker."
When asked how he feels about the party's approach and Bernier's leadership, Isidorou said he has two perspectives to share: a PG-13 version and the R-rated one.
In the former, Bernier is a "hands-off leader" that gives the party's reins to spokesperson Martin Masse. In the latter, "Max knows exactly what he's doing," Isidorou said. "His intention is to get as much attention as possible in this coming election."
When it comes to the October federal election, Isidorou says his experience with the PPC has shaken him.
"I'm heartbroken that this is what's happened."
To hear the full interview with Angelo Isidorou, download our podcast or click 'Listen' above.
- This story has been updated to reflect comments from Maxime Bernier and clarify social media posts.May 25, 2019 11:47 AM ET