A brand new ‘non-partisan’ slate in Victoria’s election has in depth ties to the Folks’s Get together of Canada

VIVA Victoria’s municipal and school board elections is in line with successful conservative movements elsewhere—prompting some progressive candidates to join the race

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Maxime Bernier speaks at a PPC event in Sooke in August, encouraging his followers to join local races. The next day, the VIVA Victoria social media accounts went live. Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily

At the end of a narrow trail into a Sooke backyard, signs bearing the face of People’s Party of Canada leader Maxime Bernier greeted about 60 supporters from around Greater Victoria.

The signs, filling the ad hoc garden stage, stated the party “says no to globalism” and “safeguards minor children.” 

The man himself was there too. After an introduction by Victoria’s 2021 PPC candidate, John Randal Phipps, Bernier spoke for two hours about his party’s platform. “We’re in a culture war,” he repeated throughout his speech.

The next front in that culture war, Bernier posited, is municipal politics: the election for local councils and school boards is coming up on Oct. 15.

People’s Party candidates on Vancouver Island received, on average, less than 4.5% of the vote in the 2021 federal election, with none drawing more than 4,000 votes—but the party and its supporters are now turning their attention to oft-overlooked local elections. 

“Be active on the school board, municipal level, and federal level, and it will change,” Bernier said. “That’s our only hope.”

Rob Anderson, PPC candidate in Esquimalt-Saanich-Sooke in the 2021 fededral election, left, and John Randal Phipps, right. Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily

Bernier isn’t alone in championing the approach to “fight the woke” in local battlegrounds; in a Sept. 4 column in The National Post, Barbara Kay exhorted voters to “push back against woke classrooms” through local school board elections, and “cleanse” them of “racially divisive and potentially psychologically damaging gender theories.”

The Canadian Anti-Hate Network found that two candidates running for the Ottawa School Board Trustee election had made dismantling “gender ideology” and trans-inclusive education a central part of their campaign. And in Hamilton, two candidates are running under a platform called Stop Woke. 

It’s following a pattern in the US of national debates playing out in the smallest of local elections—with big results for the underlying campaigns. The 1776 Project declared victory this summer in five school board elections across Florida, where it had sought to fight against discussions on racial justice in classrooms. Even militia movements are getting involved in school boards and local politics.

At the Sooke event, a woman named Leslie-Ann Goodall addressed Bernier following his speech. She was concerned about the direction of her school district—specifically its stance on gender and sexual education, at one point referencing the idea of “a pedophile” writing the sex ed curriculum—and asked Bernier what she can do to change the direction of the school district.

“I cannot do anything concrete,” Bernier said. “That’s why I’m asking you: be active there.”  

During introductions, Phipps told the crowd he was organizing candidates locally under a new slate: VIVA Victoria.

“We’ve got great people here. I’m doing the Vancouver Island Voters Association—VIVA Victoria—I’m trying to organize candidates there,” he said. Phipps gestured to the crowd, pointing out a man dressed in a black suit with slicked back dark hair standing in the shade, Jeremy Maddock.  

The day after Bernier’s event, VIVA Victoria established its social media accounts. Maddock and Goodall were among its earliest candidates.

Who is VIVA Victoria?

VIVA Victoria bills itself as a new organization, supporting candidates for local government “who will fight for the interests of the people.” 

Slate organizers maintain VIVA is a non-partisan organization.

The slate currently includes 13 candidates, seven running for city council in Victoria and six seeking school board seats in School District 61 (SD61). The organization is registered in three jurisdictions: the Capital Regional District, the City of Victoria, and SD61.

Phipps, VIVA’s authorized principal official in charge of making statements and declarations on behalf of the slate, said he believes current local governments have been “infected” with “woke ideology.”

“What [VIVA] is standing up for is transparency, fiscal responsibility, and family values,” he told Capital Daily. “Some of the stuff that’s being taught in schools is drifting away from core competencies.”

Jeremy Maddock—a candidate for Victoria City Council on the VIVA slate—said he is pushing against decisions council has made that are “ideologically motivated” and “undemocratic.”

“Our main policy priority is accountability,” he said. “And we do feel that city council in Victoria has not always been accountable to the people of Victoria.”

Maddock said removing statues and renaming streets without adequate consultation with the public is undermining reconciliation and eroding trust.

Maddock sees the removal of the John A. Macdonald statue by the City Family, and city council’s decision to postpone virtual Canada Day celebrations in 2021, as breaches of public trust.

“[The decisions] didn’t have public meetings, [they] didn’t take minutes, and there weren’t always records of what was discussed,” he said. “I don’t want decisions about reconciliation to be made in the background by a secret body of council that only includes some councillors—that is just so contrary to reconciliation, and I think it does irreparable harm to the whole concept of working together with First Nations peoples to build mutual respect and trust.” 

The decision to cancel the Canada Day celebrations was made by council in a public meeting. The City Family panel’s recommendation to remove the statue was put before council, also in a public meeting, and was adopted 8-1.

On its website, VIVA Victoria said its candidates will take a “common sense approach to local governance and the teaching of our children” and states local elected officials “should never bring pet projects or extreme ideologies to the decision-making process in city hall or at school boards.”

But the slate’s positions and affiliations may have galvanized more candidates to run, many of whom embody the kinds of ideas it’s seeking to remove from power. 

‘A lot of dogwhistles’

Jordan Watters didn’t expect to run for SD61 again. The two-term trustee launched her re-election bid in late August, telling Capital Daily she “really agonized” over whether to seek re-election.

Watters, seeing the VIVA slate, felt it was necessary to enter the race again. “We’re likely going to have high turnover [following the fall elections]; it changed the math for me and for my family,” she said. 

“It’s too important to take it for granted that we’re going to have enough candidates to hold back the tide on the sort of regressive people who are looking to target our school board.”

She joins a chorus of residents expressing their concern—specifically for the marginalized—over VIVA’s political ties.

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Watters sees “a lot of dogwhistles” among the school board candidate profiles for VIVA, including candidate Roberta Solvey’s belief that public schools are “ignoring … children’s educational needs” in favour of trying to “solve the world’s problems, be it racism, mental illness, gender equality, or climate change.”

“To me, I don’t think there are four things that are more important for the role of school board, other than student achievement, but our students cannot achieve their potential if they don’t feel safe and valued,” Watters countered.

Watters, who was first elected in 2015, said she is not familiar with any of VIVA Victoria’s school board candidates and does not recall receiving correspondence or presentations from any of them during her time on the school board. 

She expressed concern that VIVA Victoria is taking cues from far-right American political organizations that have targeted school boards in several states in recent elections, and worries about what that means for BC’s Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) legislation, which requires that schools “include specific references to sexual orientation and gender identity in their anti-bullying policies.”

“If you want to change the culture, you change the school,” Watters said. “So if they want to roll back progress on gender inclusion and anti-racism and the efforts around reconciliation, the best place to do that is in our schools. That’s scary.”

Susan Kim, a candidate for Victoria City Council, also had a strong reaction to the VIVA slate. In a press release, she decried the slate’s positions.

“This is more than a political issue. The VIVA campaign and the policies they are promoting create harm,” she wrote. “Some candidates are clearly against SOGI and are seeking to dismantle parts of the education system that were hard fought for.” 

Political ties

Key organizers have an ongoing or recent affiliation with the PPC. 

Phipps, who ran for the PPC in Victoria in the last federal election, is listed as VIVA Victoria’s authorized principal official, and Maddock is listed as its financial agent. Maddock has attended PPC events, and he’s also organized events that have featured Bernier.

In May, Maddock helped organize a two-day event in Victoria, the Reclaiming Canada Conference, with the PPC leader and frequent Freedom Convoy speaker Brian Peckford. The two discussed their joint Supreme Court challenge against COVID-19 vaccine requirements, which will be heard next week. 

Emmanuel Parenteau, who joined the VIVA slate as a council candidate last week, also spoke at the same event. In reference to the Freedom Convoy, Parenteau said, “These are the first times in about 10 years I’ve been proud to be Canadian.

“Civil disobedience has been committed by one side and one side only, and that is our government. Our gatherings are the most joyful, lawful, peaceful things I have seen in 10 years.” 

The Reclaiming Canada Conference was deeply reflective of the breadth of COVID-19 conspiracism and skepticism.

Dr. Roger Hodkinson, who has claimed COVID-19 was a hoax, was the emcee at the event, and Christian right-wing activist Tanya Gaw spoke at length about her own court challenge, which was recently thrown out by the BC Supreme Court after it was deemed “bad beyond argument.” According to an article by the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, Gaw has accused “LGBT forces” of working with “Islam to undermine Christian civilization,” and last December, members of Action4Canada—a group Gaw founded—handed out anti-vaccination literature during morning drop-offs at school.

The Reclaiming Canada Conference in Victoria in May. Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily

Maddock is used to surrounding himself with controversial figures. He previously worked for Doug Christie—a Victoria lawyer whose client list included former Nazi prison guard Michael Seifert, Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel, and self-proclaimed Nazi-sympathizer Paul Fromm.

He’s also no stranger to controversial opinions. In 2012, Maddock wrote a letter to Monday Magazine in response to an article about “a growing Nazi skinhead and fascist presence” in Victoria.

While he described “National Socialism” as “a flawed ideology” whose followers are “more than a little confused,” Maddock argued, “stating that society should not ‘tolerate’ them is hypocritical, especially from anyone who claims to be an advocate of ‘tolerance.’”

Maddock told Capital Daily he stands by the sentiment he shared in the 2012 letter but “would express it differently now.” 

Kim, who will be running opposite Maddock in Victoria, took direct aim at his past work and statements. 

“That’s just not okay. I have seen firsthand some of the white supremacist organizing and rallies on Vancouver Island and it was truly scary,” she said. “There are people who are harmed and scared for their lives when they’re impacted by hate like that… Saying nothing is a tacit endorsement of that kind of action and that kind of thinking and that is so concerning.”

Maddock considers VIVA Victoria more closely aligned with classical liberalism, which minimizes the role of government beyond a few core functions, and elevates individual freedom.

“VIVA is not here to fight a broad culture war,” he said. “We’re here to make civic decisions in Victoria.”

Emmanuel Parenteau, left, and Dr. Roger Hodkinson, right, speak at the Reclaiming Canada Conference in May. Photo: Ryan Hook / Capital Daily

Maddock said VIVA would consider anyone to join its slate, and that his federal political views are “secondary” to VIVA’s work—but says that it’s made up of people who might define themselves as classical liberals, conservatives, or libertarians. 

Meanwhile, Phipps has described his slate as featuring “a good bunch of Green, Blue, Red, Purple, and NDP orange.”

VIVA Victoria isn’t the only organization in Greater Victoria municipal elections featuring candidates who have aligned themselves with the PPC.

Victoria city council candidate Jordan Quitzau, who is not associated with VIVA, was CEO of the federal PPC’s Southern Vancouver Island association, but told Capital Daily he is no longer affiliated with the party.

“I don’t really represent any of [Bernier’s] views,” Quitzau says. “That’s none of the language that I’m trying to bring here to Victoria whatsoever. I’m a very inclusive guy.” 

Oak Bay also has a council candidate who shares some of the perspectives of the PPC and its affiliated local organizations. Current Oak Bay Councillor Tara Ney attended the Reclaiming Canada Conference Maddock organized in May, telling Capital Daily at the event she doesn’t align with some of the speakers’ politics but said she believes the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was violated during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

City council candidate dropped, then reinstated

VIVA Victoria already appears to have lost some of its prospective candidates. 

According to VIVA, one of its early candidates for SD61 trustee Corrine Torrence—also a PPC supporter—has been removed from the slate for health reasons. 

Phipps said VIVA Victoria is still in the process of vetting prospective candidates and “jumped the gun” in listing them online in late August. Phipps said their platforms will be published on the VIVA website within the month.

Muller Kalala was listed as a city council candidate until Aug. 25 when he was removed from its website. But his candidacy was reinstated a week later.

Over the past few weeks, Kalala said he’s been accused of supporting the PPC, but he denies any connection to the party, saying he and fellow VIVA candidate Sandy Janzen are “anti-PPC.” Now, Kalala said he has advised Maddock to stop attending PPC events. “We’re municipal candidates, not PPC candidates,” he said.

Kalala’s social media history offers instances of derogatory remarks about homosexuality and skepticism about the severity of COVID-19. Kalala said this and online backlash surrounding his comments prompted the VIVA board to drop him for a period of time.

Kalala said the posts were a “social experiment” meant to gauge people’s reactions to his comments.

“I got the response I was looking for, which was silence [at the time],” he said. “But I would have liked to have people comment on it and then see where people’s minds are.” 

Kalala said he has been attacked by his opposition for his past comments. “It’s a common human instinct to be reactive rather than proactive,” he said. 

VIVA Victoria emphasizes diversity of opinion among its candidates but Kim said some of those running under the VIVA banner may want to rethink their association with some of its members. “When I see diversity on slates, whether or not I agree with them, that’s great,” she said. “I’m just deeply concerned that folks who are on this slate are unintentionally being aligned with folks who express these kinds of values.”

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A new ‘non-partisan’ slate in Victoria’s election has extensive ties to the People’s Party of Canada

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