MONTREAL — Maxime Bernier's People's Party of Canada is defending one of its candidates who has promoted conspiracy theorists online and suggested the fight against climate change is akin to the Islamic State.
Party spokesman Martin Masse said Ken Pereira may have "eccentric" personal opinions, but the Quebec City-area candidate is an important personality in the province.
"He defends our values and believes in our values, and that's what's important for us," Masse said in an interview Wednesday.
Pereira was one of the first people to blow the whistle on corruption in Quebec's construction industry, but instead of being noticed for his public service, the former president of an industrial mechanics union is getting attention for his online persona.
He has suggested the measles vaccine will give people autism, and in a tweet last March Pereira wrote, "The climate agenda is as harmful for Western youth as the radical Islamic State is for their youth." He has also promoted and defended the U.S. sites The Gateway Pundit and Infowars, known for spreading conspiracy theories.
Pereira's name became known across the province following a 2009 report on Radio-Canada that looked into corruption in Quebec's construction industry. He was one of the main sources for the story.
Pereira leaked the expense accounts of Jocelyn Dupuis, who was the head of Quebec's FTQ-Construction, a union representing the majority of Quebec's construction workers.
That Radio-Canada episode helped spark additional investigative reporting that led to the Charbonneau commission, a multi-year inquiry into corruption in the construction industry and the illegal financing of political parties. Pereira testified before the commission in 2013.
He went on to develop an online persona — mostly on Twitter. In an April 2016 Twitter post he promoted the debunked theory that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine causes autism. Last month, he linked to a story about Pope Francis with the comment, "Traitor or mentally ill, the pope wants to radicalize the Catholic Church movement, the new crusade!"
Masse said Pereira used to be involved in a type of conspiracy — a corrupt construction industry that had ties to organized crime. And since then he's been interested in conspiracy theories, in general.
Pereira is a man who believes in smaller government, personal responsibility, Masse said: "Those are the values that Bernier speaks about constantly."
Asked whether climate change activists can be compared to Islamic State terrorists, Masse said that was "rhetoric" on Pereira's part.
"Look, he thinks there is an exaggeration in the thesis of climate change, and we believe that too," Masse said.
In an interview with The Canadian Press Tuesday, Pereira said he remains uncertain about the safety of the MMR vaccine, saying he has "asked a lot of doctors" and has not received a satisfactory response.
Bernier, 56, who represents the federal riding of Beauce, south of Quebec City, slammed the door on the Conservative party on the eve of its convention last August.
The Tories, he said, were "too intellectually and morally corrupt to be reformed," and on Sept. 14 he launched his new party.