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At risk of another arrest, Maxime Bernier will steer clear of most of Atlantic Canada

"I doubt he'd get much sympathy on the island." - PEI political science professor
maxime bernier
PPC Leader Maxime Bernier outside of an Elections Canada office.

People’s Party of Canada Leader Maxime Bernier is on an East Coast tour, but because he chooses not to be vaccinated, is unable to campaign in Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, or Prince Edward Island without following COVID-19 isolation rules.

All three provinces require visitors to register ahead of time if travelling from outside the Atlantic Bubble (New Brunswick was effectively kicked out when it opened its borders to the rest of Canada earlier this year). Those travel rules require someone to self-isolate for eight to 14 days, depending on the province, if unvaccinated.

“It’s very difficult to gather indoors in Quebec or in Ontario, but at least he can do rallies outdoors,” PPC spokesperson Martin Masse told Canada’s National Observer. “But he can’t even go to P.E.I., Nova Scotia and Newfoundland because of their restrictions (and) the risk of being arrested again, as he was in Manitoba.

“This is very unfortunate, and is another curtailment of our democratic rights, for no rational health reasons at all.”

Instead, Bernier is spending the weekend touring New Brunswick, a jurisdiction University of Prince Edward Island political science professor Don Desserud suggests is more fertile territory for the PPC.

“With the People's Alliance, and before them the CoR, there is more of that kind of right-wing group in the Fredericton-Saint John River Valley area,” Desserud said.

“(Bernier) may decide to use this as an example of how these PEI Passes, and the extension of those — the vaccine passports — are an infringement on liberty … but I doubt he'd get much sympathy on the island.”

PEI Passes are what the province calls its proof of vaccination that allows people to enter without isolating.

Vaccine passports have become a wedge issue in the federal election campaign. On Friday, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau pledged a re-elected Liberal government would create a $1-billion proof of vaccination fund to help provinces and territories set up their own credential system.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has also called for vaccine passports to be implemented nationally.

“Real leadership — and not just talk — would mean getting more provinces to sign on to a vaccine passport, and ensure the passport is in place by Labour Day,” he said in a statement last week.

Meanwhile, Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole has come out against mandatory vaccine mandates for federal workers and travellers, opting instead for rapid testing, and Bloc Québécois Leader Yves-François Blanchet has signalled support for vaccine passports for international travel. 

Green Party Leader Annamie Paul has voiced support for Canadians getting vaccinated, but questioned a strategy of mandatory vaccinations.

“Every person in Canada who is eligible to be vaccinated should do so as soon as possible,” Paul said in a statement last week. “However, we know that there are people who are unable to get vaccinated for legitimate reasons, whether those be medical conditions, religious or cultural convictions, or that live in rural communities with limited access to either vaccination clinics or information that addresses their concerns. What accommodations will be made for them?”

On the campaign trail, Desserud said it’s been made clear in provincial pandemic elections that things will look different from pre-COVID votes. Door-knocking, crowded rallies, or even meet and greets are less common. And it’s not just for public health reasons, it’s optics too.

“I think anyone who was overly aggressive in ignoring those restrictions, that would backfire on them,” he said.

“There's a check in the system already where (politicians) are going to have to be careful, otherwise they're going to be perceived as being careless and not really taking this seriously.”

But Bernier is no typical politician. The PPC leader was arrested in June for violating Manitoba’s requirement to self-isolate after entering the province. The PPC put out a statement at the time that said the arrest violated Bernier’s constitutional rights.

“This isn’t about COVID anymore. It’s political repression,” Masse said in a statement at the time.

Desserud said when Bernier was arrested, he “must’ve known” it was going to happen, but that he is likely to use these moments to his advantage.

“(Bernier’s) not trying to be a broad base appeal politician, he's given up on that … but he wants to shore up that base of people who … see this as an incredible imposition on his liberty, on all of our liberties I suppose,” he said.

“I can imagine him being well aware of what the value would be if he was turned away and couldn't enter a public arena, or something like that. So interesting to see how he plays it.”