London resident and realtor Rob Johnkans’ support for People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier is steadfast.

“I met him, shook his hand and had a couple minutes conversation with him,” said the longtime Conservative voter. “The guy is solid … I believed in him at that moment. He is who he says he is.”

Johnkans was among the usually-moderate voters who gravitated toward Bernier’s party during the last election. Bernier’s attacks on COVID-19 public health restrictions and vaccine passports appeared to unify a portion of the electorate that views pandemic policies as government overreach.

With that message, the PPC captured about 5 per cent of the vote nationally, possibly damaging Conservative prospects in some ridings. Moving forward, however, it’s not clear how the party can maintain that support and build momentum with no representation in the House of Commons and with the pandemic likely to end before the next election.

Rob Johnkans, a longtime Conservative voter, said he supported the PPC in the recent election because Erin O’Toole ‘seemed to chase Justin Trudeau further and further to the left.’ (CBC)

Bernier, however, is defiant and claims he can do just that even in the face of defeat.

“We don’t have anybody in Parliament, but we are the real opposition. If you look at all the ideas we promote, we are the only real conservative party in Canada right now,” he said.

In an interview with CBC News, Bernier rejected claims that his party won the support of alt-right extremists by pandering to their views. His platform pledged to clamp down on immigration, expand gun rights, repeal the Canadian Multiculturalism Act and water down legislation on discrimination.

Bernier copying Trump’s tactics, critic says

Others who watched the PPC election campaign have a vastly different opinion.

Fareed Khan, founder of the organization Canadians United Against Hate, said he believes Bernier used social media during the campaign to mislead Canadians and tap into alt-right support.

“He demonstrated through his actions during the campaign strategies and tactics right out of the Donald Trump playbook, and that’s what I think he is following,” Khan said.

Bernier recently tweeted the email addresses of several journalists who were covering the PPC campaign.

“They want to play dirty, we will play dirty too,” he wrote to his nearly 160,000 followers. Twitter restricted Bernier’s account for 12 hours in response to that tweet.

WATCH | Maxime Bernier on urging supporters to ‘play dirty’ with journalists:

Maxime Bernier on urging supporters to ‘play dirty’ with journalistsCBC News sat down with Maxime Bernier to discuss his controversial tweet urging supporters to ‘play dirty’ with journalists and what’s next for the People’s Party of Canada after the recent federal election. 2:32

“I think that Mr. Bernier is a danger to the democratic process. Should his support go further, I think it presents a very serious risk to the way politics is done in Canada,” Khan said.

Though Khan expressed concern about Bernier’s rise in popularity in the 2021 election, he said he is also “hoping” that much of the PPC’s support was tied to the pandemic — which may not be such an important factor if and when Bernier runs again.

Bernier claims vaccines are ‘to protect yourself’

In his interview, Bernier confirmed that he has still not received a COVID-19 vaccine and has no plans to do so, despite the increasing prevalence of federal and provincial vaccination mandates.

“No, I’m not,” he said when asked whether he’s vaccinated. “And I won’t be.”

Bernier also inaccurately described vaccines as purely for self-protection — when they are in fact a tool to protect community health from highly contagious viruses.

“In the history of science, when you decide to take the vaccine is to protect yourself,” Bernier said.

The PPC, unlike mainstream parties, held relatively large rallies throughout the election campaign. Upcoming travel restrictions for unvaccinated people could make it more difficult for Maxime Bernier to meet suporters. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Bernier went on to say that he may legally challenge vaccine mandates if they prevent him from travelling and performing his duties as PPC leader. Starting Oct. 30, people travelling by air, train or marine vessel must show proof of vaccination.

“I don’t know. We’ll have to look at it when the time will come,” he said of a possible court challenge.

Extremists ‘not welcome’ in PPC, Bernier insists

While politicians’ ability to travel and meet supporters will be constrained by the vaccine mandate, Bernier and the PPC said they expect to continue growing between now and the next federal election.

“We do politics differently. We’re fighting for ideas that we know are the best for the country,” said Daniel Tyrie, the PPC’s executive director.

“And as people start to hear them, [they] become more familiar with us, more comfortable with us and understand our ideas and why they’re important. This is how we’ll continue to grow.”

Bernier insisted that he will not court the support of extremists or white supremacists, though he declined to say how he plans to dissuade those people from supporting his party.

“They’re not welcome in our party. They just have to read our platform,” Bernier said.

Bernier’s rallying cry against what he called “tyranny” during the recent election was similar to a slogan used by a far-right militia group. A local PPC riding president was also removed after Justin Trudeau was pelted with gravel at a campaign event in London, Ont.

Bernier has indicated there will be a vote on his leadership in the future. Tyrie said he expects Bernier to remain the face of the party, which he founded, into the foreseeable future.

“I think Maxime is still a massive figure in the party. He’s been a huge galvanizing figure and has brought so many people into our movement,” Tyrie said.

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