#cyberbullying | #cyberbully | A ‘Mad Max’ Candidate Offers a Far-Right Jolt to the Canadian Election

MONTREAL — For Canada, it wasn’t a typical campaign event.

At a college in Hamilton, Ontario, protesters chanted “Nazi scum, off our streets!” and clashed with supporters of the populist Canadian leader, Maxime Bernier, a member of Parliament who embraces his nickname “Mad Max” and rails against immigration and climate change “hysteria.”

There was violent pushing and shoving on both sides, according to the police, and anti-Bernier protesters tried to block an 81-year-old woman with a walker from entering the venue where Mr. Bernier was scheduled to speak.

The altercation earlier this month might seem familiar in the United States or Europe, where far-right movements have ridden a wave of populism in recent years. But in Canada, a country that prides itself on its political decorum and multiculturalism, it underscored the extent to which Mr. Bernier is jolting the political landscape as the national election approaches on Oct. 21.

Mr. Bernier, a former industry and foreign affairs minister, leads the People’s Party of Canada, a far-right party he founded last year after he ran — and narrowly lost — a race in 2017 to lead the Conservatives, the country’s main opposition party. He has been a member of Parliament for 13 years.

To his supporters, Mr. Bernier, a lanky provocateur, is a folk hero for free speech. He has proposed building a fence on parts of Canada’s southern border as a bulwark against immigrants. He has warned that newcomers threaten to bring distrust and potential violence.

Mr. Bernier seeks to distance himself from President Trump, but appears to have borrowed from his playbook. He uses Twitter as a trenchant megaphone. “We are breaking taboos about immigration and multiculturalism and Canadians appreciate our frankness,” he said by phone from Ontario, where he was campaigning.

No one has thus far been elected to the House of Commons under his party’s banner — not even him. He won his seat when he was a Conservative. But even if his party remains as electorally marginal as analysts say it is, his critics say he is dangerous.

He noted that, in response to Mr. Bernier, the right-leaning Conservative Party had tacked further right on immigration, including redoubling on its pledge to end illegal border crossings by asylum-seekers.

“Countries that have Shariah Law do not have the same values as we do,” he said, referring to Islamic law.

Mr. Bernier is no stranger to controversy. He was forced to resign as foreign minister in 2008 after leaving classified documents at the home of a girlfriend with past ties to the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.

More recently, he was accused of cyberbullying a child after he called the 16 year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg “clearly mentally unstable” on Twitter.

Martin Masse, head of policy for the People’s Party, said Mr. Bernier’s penchant for provocation was necessary to get attention. But he recoiled at criticism that party members were xenophobic radicals.

“The biggest misconception is that we are an extreme right-wing party,” he said. “I am gay, and the party is open to people of all backgrounds.”

Salim Mansur, a Muslim and former professor of political science at the University of Western Ontario, who is running for Parliament for the People’s Party in Ontario, said Mr. Bernier was “trying to stand up and change the national conversation.”

Rebuking multiculturalism, he said it was “idiotic” to put “camel-riding desert dwellers” on the same level as “a culture that put man on the moon.”

Mr. Bernier is the son of Gilles Bernier, a former radio personality, who was once Canada’s ambassador to Haiti. The father taught the son how to campaign. Maxime Bernier’s other political mentor, he said, was Margaret Thatcher.

Since entering politics in 2006, Mr. Bernier has won his father’s old seat in the House of Commons four times — undermining his self-image as a plucky outsider.

Mr. Bernier, a lawyer, honed his economic thinking during nearly two decades working in the financial sector. He has long favored deregulation.

While Mr. Bernier faces an uphill struggle to transform his party into a national movement, he said he was undeterred. “We are not trying to please everyone,” he said.




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