New 'People's Party' about dividing people and personal power
Beware politicians self-describing as the voice of “the people.” It takes an oversized ego and a narrow mind to make such a claim. And it never ends well.
Enter Maxime Bernier, the latest pretender to the post of vox populi. His newly stamped People’s Party of Canada claims to be the only true voice of the Canadian people. “No one is speaking for the people,” Bernier declared in launching his new party.
News flash to Bernier: Canadians speak with many voices and viewpoints. Justin Trudeau speaks for many people in Canada. So do Andrew Scheer, Jagmeet Singh and Elizabeth May.
Valuing multiple voices and views is the essence of democracy and freedom. It’s rightly labelled totalitarian to declare that only one party and one leader is the voice of all “the people.”
Naming yourself the People’s Party is a declaration that all other parties and positions are illegitimate. Typically it is alpha-male, controlling figures who take the lead of such populist movements. The current list is long: including Trump, Putin, Erdogan and Orban abroad. Ford and now Bernier closer to home.
Populism and People’s Parties depend on two dangerous claims:
- First, that the leader and only the leader is the authentic voice of “the people,’ who supposedly have singular monolithic, homogenous interest.
- Second, is vilifying supposed enemies of “the people,” whom only the self-declared “people’s voice” can vanquish.
Populism casts the leader as saviour, last line of defence, against purportedly grave threats to “the people.” Take your pick of scourges: judges, media, freethinkers, immigrants, refugees.
Populism and a People’s Party require internal enemies. They are always false enemies and scapegoats. They also require a leader with sufficient self-confidence — or domineering hubris — to believe only he can save the people.
So Maxime Bernier has warned darkly against “more diversity” in Canada, and what the country will look like in 20 years unless immigration policies are changed. Citing no evidence, he decries “extreme multiculturalism” and is concerned that immigrants threaten Canadian values.
He claims to want a debate on immigration and Canadian values. That would require good faith. Instead, Bernier has chosen to problematize immigrants and minorities as a threat. These are classic tropes of xenophobia and stereotyping.
A populist leader inevitably pits people against other vulnerable people. Immigrants and minorities are the targets of choice everywhere.
A true populism would prioritize quality of life, respect and opportunity for all people. This would require addressing challenging issues, such as truth and reconciliation, health care, housing, poverty, precarious employment, safety, tax evasion.
A phoney populism claims the leader alone is the legitimate voice of “the people” – even when others received more votes in elections. President Trump received millions of fewer votes from Americans than Hillary Clinton.
Premier Doug Ford’s favoured tag line is “For The People.” He cites the 2.3 million votes his party received in the recent election as justification for any and all measures he takes. Left unstated is the fact that 3.3 million Ontarians voted against Ford.
Ironically perhaps, only one thing can save us from the dangers of populism and “people’s parties.” That something is people. The road map is simple.
Uphold democracy. That means the legitimacy of differing views. A balance of powers among differing institutions and interests. Distaste for scapegoating any group. And suspicion of anyone claiming to be the sole authentic voice of “the people.”
A People’s Party is always anti-many people, and more about the leader’s drive for power.
Myer Siemiatycki is professor of politics at Ryerson University.
- Report an error
- Journalistic Standards
- About Us