Political history is full of wildcards, and after two rounds of milktoast leaders that failed to please their animated base or win the coveted “political centre” Pierre Poilievre is the next leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Loyal Opposition, and who knows what after the next election. I will be honest, I do not really pay attention to Party Leadership campaigns. This time was no different. My impression of Poilievre was very much formed by the mainstream media coverage. Blowhard, loud, provider of simple and incomplete answers to complex issues. But since his campaign posted a record number of party membership sign ups (and not just for the Conservative Party, but in all of Canadian Political history) I started looking into the guy. So who is this guy and how will he affect Canada?
To start with, the media’s portrayal of Poilievre has been utterly uninventive…Trump North. While this is a valid comparison in terms of the grievance base he is chasing, that is where the comparison stops. And this is where the Canadian centre-left needs to be worried. What happens if you take the savvy political opportunism and marketing genius of Trump, but shed the inherited-trust-fund kid, gaffe-prone, entitled, race and gender baiting dark elements? Well you get Mr. Poilievre. Now I can already see some eye rolls but an honest assessment must be held. When you listen to Mr. Poilievre in long-form interview, you get a very, very different picture of the guy than the incriminating 5 second sound bites the CBC loves to throw around. It has to be said that unlike Trump, Poilievre is smart. Not just smart, but incredibly witty. Take the following example:
“The question on the women, I didn’t say many of those things,” Trump said. “I don’t remember that on ‘The Apprentice.’ I don’t know where they got some of the words, to be honest with you. In fact, I’m going to have somebody call up and find out where the words came from, because I don’t recognize those words.” Donald Trump on media coverage of himself.
Now take Mr. Poilievre:
“The CBC thinks that its job is to hold the people accountable to this government”.
It is a false equivalence to compare the two. One is incoherent, the other is witty on the spot. If you did not laugh at that quip, you are completely and hopelessly politically indoctrinated. But it goes even further. In politics and war there are many high stakes games to play. Most end in disaster, but once in a while they end in an unforeseen absolute victory. The biggest of such games is the doubling down. Now again there is a smart and a dumb way to double down. Boris Johnson doubled down intelligently all the way to the PM office of Britain, to the disbelief of almost everyone, although as of late his luck has run out. Whatever his critics say, nobody called Johnson dumb. Trump’s preferred method of doubling down is the opposite of savvy. He prefers the childhood playground tactic of “it wasn’t me” despite multiple videos showing just that. Now let’s take Poilievre’s biggest doubling down. When asked if he would really shut down the CBC, not just reform it to be better and less biased he replied that this was the mistake all his predecessors made. Steven Harper tried to reform the CBC instead of cutting it, and they went after him mercilessly so why even pretend anymore? Now shutting down the CBC is perhaps one of the highest-stakes games a Canadian politician can play. But if you actually look at the data, the viewership is horrible, and nobody pretends that the CBC is unbiased anymore. Matter of fact, most on the political Left say it certainly is not neutral…and that is a good thing. I am not sure how sustainable this model for tax-funded public broadcasting is.
Which brings me to my final and most existential point. What happens when Canadians see for themselves Poilievre in his best light? This is the 2016 surprise moment the political Left should be very scared of. None of the major media gives long form interviews to leadership candidates. But once major parties have a leader, they cannot just assassinate through sound clips any longer. So if you land on the political Left, play devil’s advocate. Why is Poilievre becoming such an incredible moment in grassroots Canadian politics? His bio should make it simple. Far from a North version of Trump, Poilievre is a very different version of anger. Again, in his sound bites all you hear is a middle-aged man ranting. But in reality there is so much more there, and anger is running very high amongst Canadians at the moment. Poilievre is an orphan. His adopted parents divorced when he was a teenager. His wife is a tri-lingual Latina immigrant. If there is a political leader who can righteously and authentically rail against the Eastern establishment, it is him. And this is where the political Left is overestimating their position. Politics is not actually about exactly what was said or what happens, it is about gaining people’s trust to look out for them. So who can actually look the social and economic underclasses in the eye and honestly say “I understand the daily struggles you face and I will do whatever I can to represent you?” Let’s just go to the actual quotes to finish off this point.
“The budget will balance itself” Justin Trudeau, inherited-celebrity-turned-politician who became Prime Minister despite admitting to not actually having any executive or Ministerial experience. He is the likely rival to Poilievre in the next federal election campaign.
“Surging energy prices harmful to families should drive green transition,” Chrystia Freeland, globalist journalist turned politician, now finance minister despite having zero executive or finance experience. She is the likely successor to Justin Trudeau if he does not run again.
“The cost of government is driving up the cost of living,” Poilievre said. “Almost a half a trillion dollars of inflationist Liberal deficits mean more dollars chasing fewer goods, driving higher prices.” Pierre Poilievre, orphaned Calgary kid who worked as a Telus Collections officer before putting himself through University and getting into politics.
We can add in school-boy quips like “Just inflation” (playing on the PM’s name while quoting his actual words back to him), or “Minister of Inflation” when addressing Chrystia Freeland.
While this can be labelled as petty or even childish, it is also very relatable, and so is Poilievre to many, many everyday Canadians struggling to hang on. And this is where the analysis switches to projections. Well, there really is no calculating a wildcard. But some stats should worry the establishment. In the last surprise Federal election, the goal posts did not really move, except in one category: percentage of the popular vote that went not just centre-right but right. If you added up the PPC, BlocQ and Conservative Party, total votes were just over 47 percent. This is an incredible number of Canadians actually voting right of centre. Due to the concentration of votes in certain ridings, this of course is not reflected in the seat count. But other numbers are even more telling. Mr. Poilievre was the only major politician to openly endorse the Freedom Convoy this past February. Despite government and colluding media’s best efforts to portray this as fringe right-wing politics, the actual data says otherwise. One Global news poll showed that as much as 46 percent of Canadians “sympathized” in some way with the protestors. When a family doctor loses her licence to practice, you do not just alienate one ex-doctor, you alienate a thousand clients as well. These people do not actually join the convoy, but they quietly cheer them on, and even donate $20 online to the cause. And so here we are. Am I projecting Pierre Poilievre as Prime Minister? No, actually not. Despite 90 percent of our landmass being incapable of growing sugar maple trees, the cultural roots and political tentacles of Laurentian Canada run deep in Canada and these elicit viscerally across the whole nation. But, the wildcard is always at play. What happens if significant numbers of Canadians get evicted in the next two years due to a housing market collapse? What happens if inflation remains uncontrolled and our dollar keeps sinking to historic lows? What happens when a minority government keeps on refusing to be accountable to anybody, even delaying parliament another whole year while a celebrity Prime Minister tours the globe talking lofty platitudes at taxpayer expense during hyperinflation? Regardless of the outcome and your biases, Canadian politics is not your grandpa’s 10th page news story any longer.