Canadian populism was excluded from this election – but it’s still a growing movement

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Canada’s multiculturalism policies suggest that Canadians may be immune to populism. Could a country committed to the preservation and enhancement of its multicultural heritage be seduced by populism, so often associated with nativism and nationalism?

Even though the People’s Party of Canada (PPC) did not win a single seat in the recent federal election, it still tripled its share of the popular vote. This requires a serious discussion of contemporary Canadian populism, as it poses risks to the tenor of Canadian politics and the unity of the country.



Read more: With far-right groups on the rise, we should keep an eye out for populism this federal election


First of all, we need to clarify what is actually meant by the term populism. Often confused with its far-right supporters, populism in Canada has historically enabled its members to gain visibility on the political scene. Populism, as a strategy, gave birth to parties like Social Credit, which were particularly popular in Saskatchewan and Alberta, and made personalities such as William Aberhart, the first Creditista Premier of Alberta, and the former Reform Party Leader Preston Manning.

Throughout Canadian history, populism has been associated with a wide variety of ideologies – from socialism to neoliberalism, represented by parties ranging from the progressive and socialist Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) founded in the 1930s to the right, Reform Party of Western Canada. The basis of populism is the opposition between ostensibly moral citizens and corrupt elites.

In the federal election of 2021, populism was clearly associated with the anti-vax movement, and linked mainly to the PPC led by former Conservative Minister Maxime Bernier.

While the PPC only won 5% of the popular vote (842,969 ballots), this is a marked increase from the 1.6% it won in the 2019 election. received more than half of its votes in Ontario and Quebec. The PPC platform builds on the alleged rift between Canadians and corrupt establishment parties or bureaucrats.

Wexit: Another Form of Canadian Populism

The Wexit movement is another current and continuing example of Canadian populism, represented by the Federal Maverick Party (formerly known as Wexit Canada) founded by Alberta separatist Peter Downing in 2020 and since led by former Conservative MP Jay Hill. .

Maverick Party candidate for Banff-Airdrie, Tariq Elnaga, is interviewed at a ranch near Calgary two weeks before the 2021 federal election.
THE CANADIAN PRESS / Jeff McIntosh

The party and its provincial branches have a long history of separatism in the West – from the Reform Party to the Concept of Western Canada, the Western Block Party and the Western Independence Party. It aims to acquire political power as the Bloc Québécois has succeeded in doing in Quebec.

But the Mavericks won just 35,278 votes in the election, mostly in Alberta (25,718) and Saskatchewan (7,250).

The populist movement in Western Canada is motivated by a lingering sense of “Western alienation” – the lingering sense that the West does not have control of the federal political agenda. Some in the West feel that they are poorly represented in federal politics and that Eastern Canada benefits and benefits from their natural resources.

Western alienation rhetoric is used to denounce federal or eastern control over provincial affairs and the alleged obstacles the federal government places in the path of western economic development – from carbon taxes to equalization programs. .

There is also the resentment fueled by the perception that Quebec is privileged to the detriment of the West.

Again, loyal to most populist movements, Western alienation relies on a supposed opposition between honest citizens (the resource-producing, laboring, and dispossessed peoples of the West) and the elites who they believe are steal them (the federal government, the elite Liberals of Ottawa, but also multiculturalists and environmentalists).

Pumpjacks in the middle of a golden field of canola.
Pumpjacks pull oil from the soil in a canola field near Olds, Alta.
THE CANADIAN PRESS / Jeff McIntosh

Of course, contemporary populism in the West does not come from nowhere – the region has experienced serious employment problems. Since 2014, 23% of jobs in the oil and gas industry in Canada have been lost. Alberta and Saskatchewan, which depend on the petroleum extractive industries, have been particularly affected.

The state of post-electoral populism

So what did the current populist movement in Canada achieve during the election campaign?

It showed that today’s populists can disrupt campaigns, sometimes by using violence.

Justin Trudeau greets the protesters by giving him a middle finger and yelling at him.
Justin Trudeau greets angry protesters who make obscene gestures as he leaves a campaign stop in Brantford, Ont.
THE CANADIAN PRESS / Nathan Denette

They can fuel debate on narrow viewpoints such as anti-vaccination and, therefore, distract from the issues that most concern Canadians, such as income inequality, job creation and social security. climate action.



Read more: Climate action and job creation are top post-pandemic priorities for Canadians


They can destabilize and impact the platforms of mainstream and dominant parties and influence the popular vote.

Finally, some forms of contemporary populism in Canada, like Wexit, are closely aligned with the interests of the oil industry and its expansion – not necessarily with its workers. It links popular resentment with the interests of a powerful industry.

As the Confederation of Tomorrow polls – annual studies conducted by an association of Canadian public policy organizations – illustrate, Canada is a divided nation. The main points of tension relate in particular to the nature of the values ​​that Canadians believe they share.

Contemporary Canadian populism reinforces these moral divisions – between Westerners and Eastern Canadians, between environmentalists and “energy citizens”, between anti-vaccines and those who promote COVID vaccination mandates – 19.

It is true that Bernier did not manage to be re-elected in his own riding of Quebec and that the Non-conformist Party obtained only a small number of votes. But that doesn’t mean populism is defeated in Canada.


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