People’s Party leader takes aim at Conservative leadership contender during Winnipeg visit

The leader of the People’s Party of Canada accused the perceived front-runner in the Conservative Party leadership race of planning to tack to the left after campaigning to the right.

Speaking in Winnipeg Tuesday morning, PPC Leader Maxime Bernier compared federal Conservative leadership hopeful Pierre Poilievre to former leader Erin O’Toole, who won the 2020 Conservative leadership on the strength of appeals to social conservatives.

O’Toole lost the confidence of party members after the Conservatives finished second in the 2021 federal election with a platform some party members considered too centrist to fire up the Tory base.

With the Conservatives poised to choose a new leader next month, Bernier claims Poilievre will be no different than his predecessor.

“O’Toole spoke during his campaign for the leadership and said ‘vote for me, the true conservative, the true blue.’ And we know what happened after that — he moved to the left to have more support in Ontario and Quebec,” Bernier told several dozen People’s Party supporters in a basement banquet room at the Park West Inn, a hotel in Charleswood.

“Poilievre is doing the same thing right now and I believe that Poilievre will be the leader of the Conservative Party. He’s speaking like a conservative,” Bernier said before making a 50-minute speech.

“They’re just conservative during the leadership campaign. After that, the Conservative Party will switch to the left like they always did.”

Pierre Poilievre is a leading contender to head up the federal Conservative Party. (Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press)

Bernier, who made his own unsuccessful run for Conservative Party leader in 2017, went on to say Poilievre doesn’t possess “any strong, real conservative family values” and chided the leadership candidate for pledging to avoid future legislative debates on abortion.

CBC News has reached out to Poilievre’s leadership campaign for comment. The 18-year MP is expected to win the Sept. 10 Conservative leadership race.

Bernier, who does not have a seat in the House of Commons, is spending the week touring Western Canada, attempting to bolster support for his People’s Party.

The PPC garnered 4.9 per cent of the Canadian vote in the 2021 federal election but failed to win a seat. In that campaign, Bernier railed against vaccine mandates, which he characterized as clawbacks on personal freedoms.

Comments on gender diversity

Speaking on Tuesday, Bernier pledged to limit immigration to skilled workers. He also blamed the housing crisis on newcomers to Canada and claimed inflation is the result of pandemic stimulus spending, and insisted he is not a “globalist” even though he flew to Davos, Switzerland, as a Conservative cabinet minister.

Bernier also spoke in dismissive terms about gender diversity.

“Now there’s five or 10 or 20 genders in the country. It’s not popular to speak against that. If you do that, you’ll be racist against the LGBT — I don’t know how many letters they have,” he said, eliciting laughter from the breakfast audience.

Bernier went on to chide Conservatives for voting to amend the Canadian Human Rights Act to add gender identity and gender expression to the list of prohibited grounds of discrimination.

Bernier himself voted for the change but later recanted. The PPC leader has also stood by candidates accused of making anti-trans statements.

Bernier said he intends to field a full slate of candidates in the next federal election. Several candidates who intend to run in Manitoba attended his speech.

Rick Dyck, who intends to run in Winnipeg Centre, said he’s confident the PPC will elect members to the House of Commons.

Evelyn Hartwig said she supports the party because she has fears about the World Economic Forum.

“We’re concerned about being tracked and identified through some sort of passport. We don’t want to see that happen and I’m afraid that’s where we’re heading,” she said.

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