OTTAWA — Quebec MP Maxime Bernier says those who hold racist views toward immigration do not have a place in his new party.
Bernier held a news conference Friday to unveil the name and logo of his new political venture — the People's Party of Canada. But one of his first orders of business was to defend his new party in the wake of support from a fringe political group.
"They don't have a place in our party. I don't share these values," said Bernier.
He also said he would screen potential candidates interested in running for his party and that xenophobic individuals will not be allowed to run.
Bernier himself was heavily criticized in August for a series of tweets which argued "too much diversity" erodes Canada's identity and destroys what makes it great and that immigration shouldn't be open to those who don't share Canadian values of freedom and equality.
Earlier this week Bernier tweeted in response to a story about the surge in asylum seekers at the U.S.-Canada border, "If you can buy a plane ticket from Nigeria to NY, you’re not a real refugee. How long will this costly farce continue to destabilize our refugee system? The solution is to close the loophole in the treaty and immediately return these false refugees to the U.S."
He said Friday he's very open to immigration, but wants to look at the levels and wants people who come to Canada to be able to have a job and "share our Canadian values."
"So let's have a real debate about that."
Bernier's championing of the immigration debate seems to be rallying the very people he says he does not want in his party.
Earlier this week Bernier confirmed he took a phone call from Travis Patron, the leader of the Canadian Nationalist Party, who proposes banning burkas, deporting asylum seekers and lowering immigration levels to 20,000 – 100,000 newcomers annually.
Bernier reportedly told Patron that those numbers were too low, but he would like to see immigration levels decrease to 250,000 per year. He said to "stay tuned" for his party's concrete proposal.
Patron told The Canadian Press that he was attracted to Bernier's leadership because he is willing to debate multiculturalism but Bernier's official said there will be no more contact with Patron.
Immigration is also a politically hot issue in the Quebec election. At last night's debate, Coalition Avenir Quebec Leader Francois Legault defended his proposal to expel immigrants who fail a French test after three years in the province.
Bernier, who has spent much of the last year fighting with his former colleagues in the Conservative Party over supply management, made the bombshell announcement in August that he's ditching the Conservative party to form his own. He called his former colleagues "intellectually and morally corrupt."
He said Friday he has raised $140,000 thus far and that thousands of people have reached out to him to get involved, but he is not quite ready to register his party with Elections Canada. That step will happen over the next several weeks, he said, adding he will be ready with 338 candidates on the ballot in the October 2019 federal election.
Bernier confirmed there are only two employees on the party's payroll — Martin Masse, one of his key organizers and Maxime Hupe, who worked previously for Bernier as a spokesman for his unsuccessful leadership bid.
He said his party will respect taxpayers, the Constitution, respect regions, provinces and territories equally, and respect Canada's traditions, "without trying to forcibly change it like the current Liberal government is doing."
And if people don't like his ideas, he says, "that's OK, don't vote for me."
"The politicians, they try to please everybody and when you want to please everybody, you won't please everybody. That's not my way of doing politics."
Conservatives are livid at Bernier's power play and argue that adding another party on the right side of the political spectrum will split the vote and allow the Liberals to easily win another majority government.
Bernier, who has not received any support from the Conservative caucus said he has not spoken to any of his former colleagues.
"I didn't call them. I didn't ask them for their support," he added, "And I don't have time for that actually."
Bernier said he plans to make another announcement about his party in the coming weeks and will unveil supporters of his cause who are "very great Canadians."
Janice Dickson, The Canadian Press