BEAUCEVILLE, Que. — Maxime Bernier vowed his People's Party of Canada would come back "stronger than ever," even as he conceded defeat in his own Quebec riding of Beauce Monday night after his new party failed to win a single seat.
With almost all polls reporting, Bernier was trailing Conservative Richard Lehoux by nearly 6,000 votes.
Bernier won the Beauce riding for the Tories in the 2006, 2008, 2011 and 2015 elections before breaking with the party and launching his own right-wing party in September 2018.
Speaking at an election party in Beauceville, Bernier said his nascent political party was anything but dead.
"We are the fastest-growing party in Canadian history, and we will continue to grow in the coming months and years," he told the crowd gathered at a local golf club.
"The issues we raised during this election will not disappear. Unsustainable immigration, endless deficits, unfair equalization, pandering, high taxes: all of these will not disappear."
The crowd of PPC fans who gathered to watch the election results displayed little reaction to the party's leader's loss.
But the defeat was received with joy from the audience at the Liberal viewing party in Montreal, who started chanting, "Na na na na, hey hey hey goodbye!"
As leader, Bernier campaigned on cutting taxes, ending corporate subsidies, drastically cutting immigration and encouraging provinces to develop their natural resources.
However, he also faced criticism from his rivals for not doing enough to weed out racists from his party and for denying there's a scientific consensus that humans are responsible for climate change.
Bernier lost to Andrew Scheer by less than two percentage points in the 2017 race for Tory leader. He attributed his loss to a concerted campaign by Quebec dairy farmers who were upset that Bernier was proposing to end the supply management system that regulates the price of eggs, dairy and poultry.
Bernier founded his own party soon after, declaring the Conservatives to be "intellectually and morally corrupt" and lacking in true conservative principles.
As leader, Bernier campaigned against what he calls "extreme multiculturalism," promising to cut immigration levels and ensure new arrivals respond to Canada's economic needs.
The 56-year-old faced criticism during the campaign for tweets describing 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg as mentally unstable, although he later softened his comments.
Late last week, The Globe and Mail reported that strategist Warren Kinsella and his firm Daisy Group were hired to "seek and destroy'' Bernier's party and portray its supporters as racist.
The Globe has reported the client was the Conservatives, although Scheer has refused to confirm, deny or even acknowledge the report.
Bernier who filed a complaint with Elections Canada over the affair, suggested that Kinsella's campaign might have had a hand in the satirical Rhinoceros party's decision to field a candidate also named Maxime Bernier in the Beauce in hopes of confusing voters.
In his speech Monday, Bernier blasted his rivals for what he called their "nasty and shameless attacks" on his party, while praising his candidates for showing "extraordinary passion and courage" despite the criticism.
"We will be stronger the next time," he promised. While Bernier ran candidates in almost every riding, his party struggled to break through, and it ended up with just two per cent of the popular vote nationally.
Lehoux, a former dairy farmer, said last week he was running against not just Bernier but the PPC leader's father too. Gilles Bernier, who represented Beauce for the Progressive Conservatives from 1984 to 1993 and then as an Independent until 1997, continues to be a presence in the riding, Lehoux said.
He said voters feel pressure to stay loyal to the family. "People have a lot of respect for Gilles," Lehoux said. "But I tell them, 'I trust you — on voting day it will be just you in the booth. No one else will know.'"
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2019
Patrice Bergeron, The Canadian Press