“We cannot be racist when we are Canadians,” the leader said, and the room filled with applause.
Maxime Bernier, head of the People’s Party of Canada, was replying to a heckler as he addressed party supporters this afternoon at the opening of a London MP candidate’s campaign office.
A few dozen mostly older people gathered for the ribbon-cutting. Salim Mansur, retired professor of Western University, was opening his office for his London North Centre campaign.
The grey concrete interior of the building was sparsely decorated with maps of ridings and Canadian flags.
Some ralliers wore t-shirts and red hats with the “Make America Great Again” slogan. One person arrived in a yellow safety vest to support the French worker’s movement called the “Yellow Vests” — a movement that, in Canada, has become associated with white nationalist views.
As the crowd watched the ceremony, a polarizing party’s first campaign season began. After the PPC’s founding this year, a retired Western professor will lead the charge in London.
Mansur is the PPC’s candidate for London North Centre, the riding encompassing Western University’s campus. Since his retirement last year, he is an emeritus professor of political science.
He and the party’s founder, Bernier, are in the first cohort of a hard-right offshoot of the federal Conservative Party running on a platform of restricting immigration, protecting free speech and rejecting what they consider “alarmist” climate change policy.
Bernier rose to prominence over the summer after a series of billboards with his photo and the slogan “say no to mass immigration” appeared across the country. Although the PPC did not organize or fund the signs, Bernier tweeted his support for the message.
He says his main priority is to balance the economy, something he thinks students should care about.
“It’s unfair because you will have to pay for [Canada’s debt] but at the end you won’t receive any benefits because the money isn’t going to build roads or huge construction projects,” he said. “It is going to social programs.”
Bernier’s address to the office was met with a heckler. A woman stepped out from the crowd and walked towards Bernier at the podium, criticizing his views on immigration.
The campaign manager quickly blocked her from approaching, and she was escorted out as the crowd hissed. A man among Bernier’s supporters responded to the commotion by yelling, “he’s the fairest of all the candidates.”
Bernier addressed the woman’s question after she was removed, saying “we cannot be racist when we are Canadians.”
He later responded to the incident, saying that the People’s Party is the only one willing to take on issues surrounding immigration.
“The other political parties are too afraid to speak about it because of what happened here today, a lady… she said that I’m a racist because I want fewer immigrants,” he said. “We’re not anti-immigration, we are for a sustainable immigration system.”
There were only a couple of young people at today’s rally, including one Western student. The party's support among students is unclear, but Mansur hopes visiting Western’s campus will help.
“I’m hoping that the students will be not only curious but the students will be very concerned about their future in the given state of our economy and our society,” he said. “And that they will be asking very relevant and important questions.”
Bernier says he does not plan to appeal to students directly, instead he believes the authenticity of his platform is what will draw them to the party. He says that his policies will be good for every Canadian, including students.
After the ribbon-cutting ceremony, Bernier and local PPC candidates joined supporters for lunch at Joe Kool’s on Richmond Row. He ended the night with a rally called the “Cost of Multiculturalism” at a hotel downtown. According to the event description, all are welcome.