People's Party candidate in B.C. byelection risks shifting public debate, observers say

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Photo: Laura Lynn Tyler Thompson/Facebook

Maxime Bernier's People’s Party of Canada announced this week its nomination of anti-LGBTQ activist Laura Lynn Tyler Thompson as its candidate in the Burnaby South byelection.

According to reports, Thompson said Bernier had "bravely declared the death of political correctness," and praised her party's leader for being "willing to take the heat to do politics a different way."

Thompson claimed she had originally wanted to run for Andrew Scheer's Conservatives, but said she was rejected on the grounds her views on transgender rights would "ruffle feathers" in the Tory leadership.

When the CBC's Vassy Kapelos quizzed Bernier about Thompson's hardline views on transgender rights, the PPC leader said he thought his party's candidate "has a point," but added he didn’t "want to go in deep in that debate."

Thompson will face NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, the Liberal party's Karen Wang and the Conservative party's Jay Shin in the byelection on February 25.

British Columbia NDP vice-president and LGBTQ community organizer Morgane Oger said she believes Thompson's nomination for the PPC is a "positive outcome" for the left.

"I think that bigotry, discrimination and hatred wither in direct sunlight. I think the more these candidates have to speak to what they actually believe, the less likely they are to get elected," she explained.

"It will make xenophobia louder, but the truth is, the louder xenophobia is, the more self-destructive it is," she added.

However, while the PPC's candidate is likely to take some votes away from Scheer's Conservatives, David Laycock, a political scientist at Simon Fraser University, thinks the left has reasons to be concerned about the PPC's broader ideological influence.

"The NDP has reasons to hope that Bernier does reasonably well, but that’s a short- to medium-term calculation," he said.

"Outside of the NDP, the left won't be happy, to the extent that Bernier's party stirs up a lot of latent opposition to multiculturalism in Canada," he added.

Thompson is a former televangelist and staunch anti-LGBTQ advocate who has steadily gained notoriety in B.C. politics over the last couple of years by leading the charge against SOGI 123 -- an initiative designed to protect LGBTQ youth from homophobic and transphobic bullying.

Teaming up with Culture Guard -- a fringe Christian-right organization that promotes, among other things, pamphlets decrying the "Health Hazards of Homosexuality" -- Thompson has claimed B.C.'s anti-bullying initiative is a secret ploy by "puberty blockers" to indoctrinate children with "gender ideology."

She has also condemned a petition calling for a ban on gay conversion therapy (which is still legal in British Columbia and most of Canada) and campaigned on behalf of Chilliwack school-trustee Barry Neufeld, who called B.C.'s initiative against anti-LGBTQ bullying a "form of child abuse" and has suggested SOGI is a program engineered by elites who want to "destroy gay kids" by "culling them from the gene pool." Neufeld’s comments about SOGI have triggered a lawsuit by the B.C. Teachers' Federation.

Thompson's ally has also been caught sharing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories (he shared an article claiming Jews are responsible for instigating conflicts in Russia) and quack science (he claimed male semen can be used as an anti-depressant for women) on social media.

Thompson tested the political viability of her views with Burnaby voters in last year's local elections, running for school trustee in the city's school district on an openly anti-SOGI platform.

She finished third from last place; a less than impressive performance, especially given the media hullabaloo that surrounded her campaign and platform. As Burnaby Now editor Chris Campbell remarked: "I don't see how someone who lost running for school trustee will be able to win a federal riding."

However, despite Thompson being unlikely to win the Burnaby byelection, her presence on the federal political stage might indicate the PPC's willingness to give more ultra-conservative voices a national platform come the general election this fall.

Glen Hansman, president of the B.C. Teachers' Federation and an advocate for SOGI, said: "Mr. Bernier frames himself as a kind of libertarian, and somebody who speaks for Canadian values, and yet he's choosing to lead with someone who has a detailed track record making some pretty heinous comments about trans people specifically."

"If this is the first impression that the public is going to get, it could be that (The PPC) will be looking for more of the same across Canada: people who under the banner of free speech will make hateful statements about any number of groups," he added.

In addition to campaigning for a progressive victory in the Burnaby byelection, the left must be alert to the longer term implications of people like Thompson being given a national platform.

Alex Cosh is a journalist and PhD student based in Powell River, B.C. His work has appeared on PressProgressLeft Foot Forward and in several local B.C. publications.

Photo: Laura Lynn Tyler Thompson/Facebook

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