The inaugural meeting of the People’s Party of Canada’s electoral district association for the Kootenay-Columbia. Photo: Todd Coyne

COLUMN: The People’s Party of Canada arrives in the Kootenays

‘The Conservative Party of Canada walked away from us,’ says organizer of Kootenay-Columbia and South Okanagan-West Kootenay riding associations

Twelve men and one woman crowd around a laptop in a West Kootenay hotel. They’re here to destroy the Canadian “nanny state,” but for now the gender distinction takes precedence.

“Hopefully we are a party that only recognizes two genders,” says Glen Walushka, a regional organizer for Canada’s newest political party.

The upstart People’s Party of Canada, founded two months ago by federal Conservative party breakaway Maxime Bernier, is now a going concern in the B.C. ridings of Kootenay-Columbia and South Okanagan-West Kootenay.

While this, the inaugural gathering of the Kootenay-Columbia electoral district association, is small in numbers, a dozen other voices crackle intermittently over the laptop from Creston, Cranbrook and across the riding.

Their ranks skew older; mostly veterans of the military, forestry and energy industries — those who left home to earn livings elsewhere. But there are outliers, too.

Take 31-year-old James Jost of Nelson. His living left him last month for Mexico, landing him on the dole. Meet your new riding association president and chief executive officer.

“I lost my job here locally because of a buyout from a larger corporation in America,” says the former Pacific Insight employee. “I believe very strongly in the values of libertarianism.”

RELATED: Pacific Insight to lay off part of workforce

Another outlier is the riding association’s 25-year-old vice-president, Josh Pedersen of Jaffray, B.C. “I enjoy the political situation right now and I revel in the chaos,” he says.

Chaos, libertarianism, personal responsibility and bootstrap self-betterment are the unifying principles around the table. So too is the notion that Canada — and conservatism, more broadly — has somehow, somewhere, lost its way.

“I put my trust in Mad Max [Bernier] to lead Canada back to safety,” says Rob McLean, one of seven riding association directors to be acclaimed and a former volunteer for prime minister Stephen Harper’s Calgary campaign.

Of course, if their populist remember-when rhetoric sounds familiar, it’s not by accident.

“Like Trump or hate him, the guy is actually making a difference down there and we have to have someone make a difference here,” says organizer Walushka.

Any fears that a new right-wing Canadian party will only serve to splinter the conservative vote in 2019 — however marginally — and ensure four more years of nanny-state rule, are absent from this group. On that point they’re fearless, even here in the Kootenay-Columbia, where NDP MP Wayne Stetski edged out the Conservative incumbent in 2015 by just 282 votes.

RELATED: Conservatives name candidate for Kootenay-Columbia in 2019

Carving out the ‘small-c conservative’ heart of the Conservative party is, in fact, the point. Tory leader Andrew Scheer is not a true conservative in the eyes of this crowd, but rather a traitor, a tepid Trudeau-lite.

“We didn’t walk away from the Conservative Party of Canada,” says Walushka. “The Conservative Party of Canada walked away from us.”

The local riding associations don’t officially start fundraising for 2019 until Jan. 1. But already there are donations in front of the laptop from around the room — $50 bills being the most common contribution.

“There’s a lot of naysayers that don’t believe we can field 338 qualified candidates going into the 2019 election,” Walushka says. “We’re going to prove them wrong.”

With the two Kootenay riding associations now established, the People’s Party has surpassed 200 active associations nationwide and hopes to have all 338 candidates in place by May.

Candidate hopeful Rick Stewart is the first — and only — to throw his hat in for the Kootenay-Columbia riding thus far, albeit still unofficially.

“Scheer actually caused this because people recognize him as being a fake politician, not a good representative of the people,” Stewart says, on his way out of the hotel. “Scheer has taken the Conservative party to the centre and there’s a lot of grassroots conservatives that are squirting out the back door.”

todd.coyne@blackpress.ca

@toddcoyne

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