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People's Party Lists Well-Known Candidates As Part Of Bid For Debates

OTTAWA — The People’s Party of Canada made another bid Friday to convince debate organizers they deserve to be included in two televised events in October.

In a letter to the Leaders’ Debates Commission, People’s Party Leader Maxime Bernier provided a list of five candidates he said were prominent figures in their ridings and would carry that advantage into the campaign.

The commission had originally asked the party to provide a list of three to five candidates it believed had the best chance of winning their races. The commission planned to use that information to help make a determination of whether multiple PPC candidates had a “legitimate chance” of winning their seats, a qualification for participation in the debates.

People's Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier reacts after a musical performance at the PPC National...

Canadian PressPeople's Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier reacts after a musical performance at the PPC National Conference in Gatineau, Que. on Aug. 18, 2019.

The party did not meet that requirement when the commission made its initial decisions on participation earlier this month, the commission found, leaving Bernier uninvited.

The debate organizers did give Bernier until Sept. 9 to provide further evidence for why he should be included, and a deadline of Friday for the list of ridings where he thought his candidates would perform best.

But Bernier said in the letter that because his young party doesn’t yet know how their support is concentrated in each riding, and doesn’t have the money for polling to do so, they cannot determine what seats they have the best chance of winning.

And at a national convention of his party held in Gatineau, Que., last weekend, Bernier told reporters, in French, “As I have always said, we are a political party that does not poll.”

5 notable candidates

In his letter, Bernier also argued the chance of PPC candidates winning would change substantially during the campaign, because of a “high level of volatility and disaffection of the electorate, and the fact that populist parties similar to the PPC have experienced very rapid growth in other western countries.”

So instead of providing a list of candidates with the best chance of winning, the PPC flagged five candidates that they said are better known in their ridings and would thus have an advantage going in to the campaign.

First on the list was Bernier himself, who currently holds the Quebec riding of Beauce.

Two former Conservative MPs were also listed: Steven Fletcher in a Winnipeg-area riding and Corneliu Chisu in Pickering-Uxbridge. Mark King, a city councillor in North Bay, Ont., is running for the PPC in Nipissing-Timiskaming and was also listed by the party.

Finally, former Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s widow Renata Ford — seeking to unseat Science Minister Kirsty Duncan in Etobicoke North — was also singled out.

Bernier also argued in the letter that the number of social media searches and the coverage he has received in traditional media is “clear proof” of the electorate’s interest in his party, necessitating his place on the debate stage.

Watch: Maxime Bernier tells supporters he is confident he’ll be in federal election debates. Story continues below.

Michel Cormier, executive director of the debates commission, said in an emailed statement his organization had thanked Bernier for his submission and “will be taking the full scope of the letter into consideration as we make our decision.”

Opinion polls and polling aggregators tend to show the People’s Party receiving around three per cent of public support. A Mainstreet Research poll from earlier this month suggested Bernier was tied with his Conservative opponent in Beauce.

“It’s very hard from national polling, and even regional polling, to look at the potential of the People’s Party,” said Christian Bourque, a vice-president at the Leger polling firm.

Bourque added that unless a party is polling in double digits regionally, it seems unlikely they would win any seats, with some special exceptions.

Victory in Bernier’s own seat, for example, largely depends on the Conservative’s national campaign, Bourque said.

And for the PPC to see more widespread success, it would likely need the Conservative national campaign to collapse, he said, and a more successful Tory campaign would make things difficult for the PPC. 

The Ontario riding of Pickering-Uxbridge northeast of Toronto, for example, is probably one of the first ridings a successful national Conservative campaign would hope to pick up from the Liberals, Bourque said.

Even if polling suggests PPC candidates have a low chance of winning outright, whether Bernier will be able to participate in the federal leaders’ debates depends on the commission’s determination of whether they have a “legitimate chance” to do so.

The criteria for what makes a “legitimate chance” is unclear. The commission defines it as “a reasonable chance of having someone elected,” but Cormier has said that does not correspond to a specific polling result, but more a general overview that takes things like fundraising, media attention and previous election results into consideration.

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