Far right gains in Canada’s election

September 28, 2021
The far-right Peoples Party of Canada (PPC) capitalised on anger and anxiety over job loss, small business closures and government programs to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Canada’s federal election ended in a status quo, returning minority government to the ruling Liberal Party with essentially the same distribution of seats among all parties. The Liberals took 159 seats, compared with 157 in 2019, the Conservatives held onto 119, and the social democrats in the new Democratic Party (NDP) took 25, compared with 24 in the previous poll.

Perhaps the most notable and troubling outcome was the sizeable number and proportion of votes secured by the far-right People's Party of Canada (PPC), a recently formed party running on a platform of xenophobia, anti-migrant rhetoric and far-right, dog-whistle appeals to “Canadian identity” and “Western values” (read white supremacy).

The PPC has emerged over the two years since its founding as a mainstream banner behind which fascists, white nationalists and explicit neo-Nazis have gathered, and provides a network to organize from and a platform for mainstream media messaging. They are a force that the left must vigorously oppose.

Far right electoral gains

The PPC won more than 840,000 votes and claimed more than 5% of the vote. This was a substantial rise from the 1.6% it received in 2019, when it garnered almost 300,000 votes.

PPC leader Maxime Bernier was the only party leader sincerely excited by the election results.

Beyond the PPC, minor far-right parties had the next highest votes beyond the six main parties. The Maverick Party, a Western Canada-based party that styles itself after the Brexit Party, polled 35,278 votes, while the Christian Heritage Party garnered 9041 votes. Compare this with the miniscule vote of the Marxist-Leninist Party (4856) and the Communist Party (4742).

The PPC actually finished second in multiple ridings (electorates), mostly in Alberta. In the riding of Peace River-Westlock, the PPC candidate finished second with 12.9%. In Fort McMurray-Cold Lake, the PPC candidate was second with 12.8%. In Yellowhead, the PPC candidate also placed second at 12.8%.

In Lakeland, the PPC came second with 11.1%. In 11 ridings in the British Columbia interior, PPC candidates won more than 7% of the vote. In North Okanagan-Shuswap, it won a startling 10.3%, and in Prince George-Peace River-Northern Rockies it won 10.5%.

These numbers are alarming, given that the PPC ran in only its second federal election. It finished with a larger vote share than the Green Party, a longstanding federal party with elected members of parliament. The Greens managed only 2.3% of the vote, with 398,775 votes cast, less than half the PPC result.

Far-right mobilisations in Canada extend well beyond PPC rallies and started well before this year. However, the PPC’s result happened in a context in which far-right mobilisations and white supremacist assaults have been rising over the past few years. This includes marches in Indigenous communities and rallies against homeless people in cities like Nanaimo, British Columbia.

In the weeks leading up to the election, far-right forces, with much PPC presence, notoriously held blockades of hospitals against COVID-19 vaccine measures.

A new banner for the far right

The PPC ran primarily on a platform of ending mass immigration, “Canadian identity”, and “liberties and freedoms” aimed toward the anti-vaccination movements that have been launched by far-right groups.

Making use of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the political and economic responses of the mainstream parties, they have brought together broader anger and anxiety, particularly of the middle strata, about neoliberal austerity, job losses, economic fears, small business closures and government social control.

They have managed to wed this with more familiar right-wing targets like migration, taxation, multiculturalism and social program spending. They have also found space to create a pole of attraction in a terrain in which the left has been ineffective or disorganised.

Canadian Anti-Hate Network executive director Evan Balgord described PPC’s role in this way: “The rise of the party kind of fits into this because these people didn't really have a political party. If they voted for any party, they would vote Conservative. But they weren't particularly happy about voting Conservative either because they're the most fringe.

“So when the PCC started as a party in 2019, Bernier, right from day one, was using their language, their talking points, and the words of the far-right in several spaces. We saw them actually say ‘Bernier is dog whistling to us’.”

One aspect of the far-right’s success in the context of COVID-19 has been the lack of a real, organised left-wing alternative with mass mobilisations to push governments into proper and adequate social supports, whether liveable income supports, paid leave from work, permanent rent controls and eviction restrictions, or expanded medical care.

While COVID-19 has upped social and economic pressures, especially on the working class, there has been no mobilised left pole of attraction to ensure working-class needs are adequately addressed, let alone put at the forefront.

There has not even been a strong working-class program put forward by the main social democratic party, the NDP. Instead, the NDP has moved to the centre, promoting petit bourgeois policies based on individual property and small business concerns, as I have outlined previously.

At the same time, the Green Party has taken its own rightward turn. Early analyses suggest that a surprising number of PPC votes came from former Greens voters.

In this vacuum, the PPC has been able to pose itself as a repository for opposition, and to play up anger that exists in Canadian politics for its own reactionary ends. This has been achieved, in part, by its emphasis on a claimed commitment to a vague and malleable notion of “freedoms” or “liberties”.

Fascism and the PPC

Well known neo-Nazi, fascist, and white supremacist groups and individuals have endorsed the PPC. The PPC has openly flown its flags and offered speakers at rallies attended by fascist groups, such as the Soldiers of Odin. It has also participated side by side with fascists at aggressive actions.

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network has identified several candidates, party insiders and supporters who have been members of fascist groups. This includes more than 10 PPC candidates or party members who have been involved in white nationalist groups. One of the party’s first riding executives ran a neo-Nazi organisation in the United States.

A PPC riding director in London, Ontario, was charged during the campaign with throwing gravel at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It was later revealed that he had previously posted white power music on social media, including songs about killing immigrants.

PPC candidate Mario Greco has been exposed for allegedly creating a video game where players can participate in shooting caricatures of minorities and LGBTI+ people.

Where to from here?

Some commentators suggest, or hope, that single-issue voters who voted for the PPC — largely due to their views on shutdowns or COVID-19 vaccine mandates — will drift away from the party with the end of shutdowns and pandemic restrictions.

University of Guelph professor of political science Tamara Small has suggested that the end of the COVID-19 pandemic would stop the growth of the PPC: “My sense is that a lot of this anger and concern is tied up in a particular type of anger about lockdowns and vaccine mandates and overreach of the state. I'm not too sure whether or not, once the pandemic is done, to what extent the party still exists.” Yet this hope is a bit superficial and shortsighted.

The anti-vax vote is also indicative of far-right opposition to social services and provisions that might benefit the working class. It is also, for some, a vote against social programs, such as universal health care and welfare, opposing such social democratic programs is a hallmark of the right wing more broadly.

If the PPC can generalise anger against social programs, and against social democracy more broadly, and continue to focus this against familiar right-wing scapegoats (migrants, poor and homeless people, Indigenous people) there is room for them to continue momentum post-pandemic and to build on their rage politics. In considering this, we must remember that far-right groups and individuals, who supported the PPC and its rhetoric before the election, were already targeting these scapegoats.

A bedrock falsity exists in Canadian society: that fascism could not happen here and that Canadians are not susceptible to the rage politics that motivated Trumpism in the US.

The PPC are showing that a substantial proportion of Canadians hold views that can be described as anti-immigrant, anti-refugee, anti-Indigenous, anti-poor, as well as homophobic and misogynistic.

As for all settler colonial states, Canada is rooted in white-supremacist structures: mythologies and institutions. It also maintains a mythos of settler colonialism, one that resonates with fascism. That is the idea of “productive” members of society beleaguered by the “unproductive”, rather than a proper class politics.

As I have written previously, there is deep ground for the growth of fascist politics in Canada. It is not a question of, “Can it happen here?”, as some have posed. It has long been here.

The challenge remains, as always, for the socialist left to build community self defence against the far right and its mobilised violence. This might include literal self-defence flying squads against fascist groups, but also forms of mutual aid and community care. It will also mean mass mobilizations pushing for real alternatives to COVID-19 austerity and to the reactionary targeting of the most vulnerable sectors of the working class.

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