Fear & Loathing in the Pembina Valley: The People’s Party of Canada Rises

The skies had become a deep and foreboding black and the wind picked up to a point where I kept looking out the window for tornadoes. It was an ominous storm that brought almost no rain but threatened constantly and still managed to damage a large number of trees.

When I went out the next day to survey the damage I was underwhelmed to discover the old wood gate on the north side of our driveway had been blown into the side door panel of our very new Honda Civic leaving a pretty decent dent.

It’s too deep to suction out” was the disheartening news. Now, months later after insurance evaluations and approvals it sits in the shop awaiting repair.

In the meantime we are down to the Altima and I have been dropping my wife off at work in Winkler on my way into Winnipeg for my job where I go three days a week.

Since I am neurotic about keeping my route as short as possible (think Stephen King’s short story Mrs. Todd’s Shortcut but with less obvious monsters along the way).

What this has done is to give me a new route through the gravel roads and beautiful prairie farmland between Winkler and Sperling where I rejoin the highway into the city. The drive has been an eye-opener.

Now you should know I am a bit of a political junkie. I cannot help but follow all things election and politics-related both here in Canada and in the United States (and quite often abroad as well). Consider it a sad hobby. With this in mind I feel like I am attuned to the dark dimensional vibrations of the second estate – that being the nobility.

Make no mistake – no matter how a politician wants you to believe or believes themselves to be part of the third estate, commoners, they are entrenched in the nobility if for no other reason than the power endowed upon them in a democratic election by you and I.

Anyhow, as I am driving through the countryside I notice something interesting – a lot of purple People’s Party of Canada signs at the ends of farm property driveways.

Someone might dismiss such signs as not worthy paying attention to but these and other signs have been feeding a growing feeling deep in my gut. These aren’t signs on public property along roadways…you can dismiss those signs immediately as meaningless in measuring support and all about marketing. When you see a sign on a private property, that’s a vote.

Something very grassroots is blowing through the political landscape of rural southern Manitoba and that something is centered on Solomon Wiebe, the young PPC candidate running in the upcoming election for the federal riding of Portage-Lisgar.

Portage-Lisgar has long been a small-c conservative stronghold. Since its creation in 1996 (and long before under other names and dimensions) it has been held by predominantly three parties (and not the ones you might guess).

From 1997-2000 it was held by the Reform Party. Between 2000-200 it was held by the Alliance (a vehicle created by the Reform Party and others to merge with the Progressive Conservative party and very briefly known as the Canadian Reform Alliance Party or CRAP providing further evidence we live in a computer simulation and the programmer’s kid got into the code briefly).

Between 2000-the Present day it has been held by the Conservative Party of Canada, first by recently retired-in-a-shadow Premier of Manitoba Brian Pallister and now by MP Candice Bergen. Regardless of one’s politics a person has to admit Candice comes across as the most prepared, experienced and well-spoken candidate at any of the all-candidates forums.

Usually but not always, the history of politics in Portage-Lisgar has prompted other parties to parachute in candidates who are not from the riding and are simply bookmarks or placeholders perhaps with the hope that the Conservative candidate will drop out or a miracle will occur.

There is a saying around these parts that the Conservatives (or any version of them) could run a dead, yellow dog in this riding and it would get elected. Now I do not reference this saying to take away from the seriousness and passion of the candidate that wins, even if they are always Conservative, it’s merely an observation.

INTERMISSION: I am not a party man. I have never been a party man. I have a deep and probably illogical problem with the whole concept of party politics in a democracy. I feel that the party structure squelches new voices. This strongly conflicts with my passionate belief that one must always exercise their right to vote. Every election it is the same, gut-wrenching, process of deciding who I should vote for. Should I vote based on who I want to be Prime Minister? Should I vote based on who would best represent my interests? Should I vote based on who would best represent the broadest population in my region?

Party politics freezes out new ideas and new possibilities in favour of a constant rotation of two members of the old guard. The closest thing to anything interesting happening on the national stage in “recent” history was the absolute demolition of the Progressive Conservative party down to two federal seats in the flaming aftermath of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney’s time in office and the rise of the Reform Party leading to an alliance that dragged the PCs substantially away from centre.

I don’t like confining myself to a political box because I feel I might be a tad more complex. My good friend Mike calls me a fence-sitter and means that in the most derogatory way possible. I understand.

Thankfully, since I have lived in Morden from 2005, I have not had to worry about strategic voting because there is no such thing as strategic voting in a riding where the Conservative candidate often captures more than 70 percent of the vote.

Now the Conservatives have been trying to drag themselves back to centre in something of a tumultuous, internal tug-of-war. This is mostly being done by the efforts of current leader Erin O’Toole who cynically won that party’s last leadership convention by playing cleverly to the more extreme right members and then promptly promoting centrist ideas in his victory speech. A strategy almost certain to see him eaten alive by centrists, moderates and extreme members of his own party as time marches on. One thing is certain, the only person who will be worse off than Justin Trudeau if he loses the upcoming election is the person who wins.

But back to the main and my gut.

My gut is telling me something about this election and PPC candidate Solomon Wiebe. Solomon Wiebe who has 1,200 followers on Facebook (currently) compared to Bergen’s 71,000. This young, rural guy who has been at anti-mask and anti-vax (or pro-freedom, I don’t know where the double-speak puts things anymore) rallies throughout Winkler, the RM of Stanley and Portage-Lisgar while even managing a visit from PPC leader Maxime Bernier (of briefcase fame). You know – the guy who leads a party with twice the popularity of the Greens and no seat at the national debates.

I drive and walk around the region and see his signs everywhere. Leaving Morden during “rush hour” the other day I am witness to a young man standing in the median on the highway facing east and welcoming the hoards of tired workers back home while enthusiastically waving a very large Solomon Wiebe sign held high over his head.

There are clues subtle and not so subtle that Wiebe has something of a powerful, grassroots effort behind him. The last time I had a gut feeling like the one I am having now it was prior to the last municipal election and it was about Brandon Burley who was running in Morden.

Brandon Who?

Well no one asks who anymore because Burley has become well-known as the often passionate and outspoken mayor of Morden having won the last election as a perceived unknown, underdog running against a well-known business owner. A business owner whose campaign was being run by the wife of the very well known MLA for Morden-Winkler – current Justice Minister/Attorney General Cameron Friesen.

“He doesn’t stand a chance” people said of Burley.

“I don’t know” I would argue. “I have this weird feeling in my gut.”

Generally, nobody pays attention to somebody else’s gut and this is wise.

While mayoral candidate numero uno was out there connecting with various people in positions of municipal and provincial leadership Burley was wandering the city streets one block at a time knocking on doors and presenting his genuinely passionate voice to whomever he could, asking people what they wanted out of a mayor etc.

Grassroots. Folksy and relatable. Regular guy. etc.

Yeah there’s something going on with Wiebe’s campaign that smells the same.

The timing of the Covid pandemic, lockdown weariness, global economic and supply chain restrictions, creeping inflation and joblessness have all played into the hands of a party like the PPC who are aiming solidly at the demographic pushing back strongly against the measures that have been brought to bare against these things.

When Wiebe stated in his introductory remarks at the region’s one and only all candidates’ forum that he would donate his salary (after taxes) if elected, he is appealing to this crowd. The “he’s one of us” crowd. When he trumpets freedom over mask and vaccine mandates (which others might call freedom to health and well-being) he is appealing to this crowd. That same crowd whose members have actively called out individuals in businesses for actually wearing a mask.

Do you think you are better than me?” one person I know was asked by another while going into a Winkler restaurant simply for obeying the health rules in place.

This is the atmosphere in Portage-Lisgar’s Pembina Valley right now. It’s a place that outsiders are starting to avoid according to some well-placed business owners I know. A place people are beginning to fear. A place they are beginning to loathe. These kinds of attitudes feed the growth of a party geared toward those who are being blamed (rightly or wrongly) for extending our health mandates. The more people yell and scream and make fun of this demographic the more appealing the PPC becomes to them.

When people start feeling like they are being looked down on by corrupt, arrogant elitists and dismissed as wackos they gravitate to the ones they believe are genuinely listening to them.

Something is up with this Wiebe’s PPC campaign in Portage-Lisgar. There is an energy behind it I have not seen in a while and I have seen a few. I covered John Manley’s first election for The Ottawa Citizen back in the old days and was at his campaign headquarters throughout the evening of the election. I worked for a news service covering Kim Campbell’s ill-fated campaign as leader of the PCs when she was run over by the little guy from Shawinigan Jean Chretien. What is happening with the PPC and locally with Wiebe is being fed by a perfect storm of political, social and cultural conditions – one to pay close attention to.

Do I think Wiebe will win the riding of Portage-Lisgar? No. I am not ready to make that kind of bet. But stranger things have happened and in politics it’s often the strangest things that happen more often than naught. I will say this – this upcoming election will be the worst result for the Conservatives in Portage-Lisgar in a very long time.

A final thought – the PPC party is closing on on six percent support nationally – that’s double the Green Party. That same Green Party currently holds two seats in parliament. Of course those seats are in a pretty focused area of British Columbia and the PPC party’s support is a little more spread out but you never know.

One thing is certain, the PPC are in range of maybe one seat and it wouldn’t be out of the question for that seat to be Portage-Lisgar.

Interesting times indeed. Keep your eyes on the driveways and properties people. Look for the signs…it’s all about the signs.

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