Police estimate around 1,000 people packed Central Memorial Park in Calgary on Saturday for an anti-vaccine mandate rally attended by People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier.
The anger of the crowd was directed in equal parts at federal and provincial governments over COVID-19 restrictions.
Some of those in attendance were former Conservative Party of Canada voters who have found a new home with the People’s Party of Canada.
“Everything he said was exactly what I’m looking for — being a parent, a business owner and a grandparent,” said Susanne Muller, a Calgary hair salon owner.
“We need our rights and we need our freedoms. We have all these other political leaders that seem to be following the same platform and he has a different platform.”
Carol Grant works in the oil and gas industry. She came to hear Bernier speak at the rally.
“His platform is very important to me because he’s pro-pipeline. He wants to fix the equalization formula. He wants to get rid of the carbon tax. He’s all about freedom of choice,” Grant said.
“You can be proud of yourselves, freedom fighters,” Bernier told the cheering crowd.
Bernier says the PPC is the only national political party speaking against COVID-19 vaccination passports and mask mandates.
This is Bernier’s third stop in Alberta during the federal election campaign.
The Conservative heartland doesn’t usually get much attention from federal leaders, but the leader of the People’s Party of Canada has found an issue that has galvanized some voters: opposition to mandatory vaccinations and vaccine passports.
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A Leger national survey showed that 23 per cent of Albertans polled are opposed to a vaccine passport system, and Bernier is looking to capture those voters.
“There’s 20 to 25 per cent who are opposed to mandates. Some of those people may not be opposed to vaccines. They may just be opposed to vaccine mandates but that’s a wide body of people that you could mobilize,” said Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt.
“He hasn’t mobilized them all yet. He’s probably got a third of those votes, but it’s not a small number in political terms. It’s a small number in electoral terms,” Bratt said.
Mount Royal University associate professor Lori Williams said Bernier’s influence may play a role in the riding of Calgary Confederation and some ridings in Ontario.
“In those tight three-way ridings everybody is saying are too close to call, this could be it. This could make a difference. It’s very bad news for the federal conservatives in Ontario.
“With those kinds of (PPC) polling numbers in the mid-teens, I think it’s starting to get a little bit unpredictable,” Williams said.
The party’s platform also includes more provincial autonomy, significant changes to the federal equalization plan and a withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accords.