Canadian conservatives turn to populists to challenge Trudeau

Pierre Poilievre (WikiMedia Commons)

TORONTO — Canada’s recently ill-fated Conservatives, losers of three straight federal elections that exposed the divisions between their populist and more moderate factions, are set to elect a scorched-earth-style, media-savvy 43-year-old Brandon on Saturday. as the new leader to take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Everything suggests that Pierre Poilievre has the contest in the bag.

The Calgary, Alberta-born lawmaker drew standing crowds – mostly unusual for leadership campaigns here – peddling grievance policies, pledging to fire the central bank governor, railing against public health mandates and promising to make Canada the “freest country in the world.”

“Our institutions are fucking a whole generation of working-class youth,” he said in June. “But the elite keepers think the biggest problem is me calling him. They just want to protect themselves.”

Her campaign says she has recruited more members than the entire Conservative Party in the past two leadership races. In the second quarter of this year, he raised more money from donors than his leadership challengers combined. He won the support of Stephen Harper, the last Conservative Prime Minister of Canada.

Poilievre’s main opponent is former Quebec premier Jean Charest, 64, a former leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party. A seasoned politician, he presented himself as more moderate than Poilievre, able to expand the party’s big blue tent while keeping its various factions together.

Patrick Brown, the mayor of the Toronto suburb of Brampton, Ont., was disqualified in July amid allegations that he violated federal election law on the sale of party memberships, among other complaints. (Brown denied any wrongdoing; he accused the party, without evidence, of working to secure Poilievre’s election.)

“This time it won’t be close…unless something weird or miraculous happens,” said Richard Johnston, professor emeritus of political science at the University of British Columbia. “It’s going to be a blast.”

The vote, which uses a preferential ballot, is reserved for dues-paying members of the Conservative Party. A record 678,000 people were eligible to vote in this year’s contest and nearly 418,000 ballots were accepted – the most for a federal party leader in Canadian history.

The party said Friday it would revise its leadership convention schedule to reflect the passing this week of Queen Elizabeth II, who was Canada’s queen and the country’s head of state.

A record number of members were also registered in the last Conservative Party leadership race, in 2020. They chose Erin O’Toole, a lawyer and military veteran, to lead the party. But enthusiasm for the leadership race did not translate into success against Trudeau and his Liberal Party.

While campaigning to become party leader, O’Toole presented himself as a “true blue” Conservative, who was not an “Ottawa bubble product”. He pledged to “take Canada back” and defend Canada’s history against “the nullification of culture and the radical left”. He denigrated his main opponent, calling him a “light liberal”.

But in last year’s federal election, O’Toole ditched the “take back Canada” rhetoric and found himself at the center. Critics accused him of being a shape-shifter who would say anything to get elected. Many conservatives hated O’Toole’s moderate platform and his shifts in key policy positions.

He won the popular vote, but not the plurality of seats in Parliament. The caucus ousted him as leader in February.

The race to replace him has been marked by personal attacks between the candidates.

“The tone has certainly been discouraging,” said Jonathan Malloy, a political scientist at Carleton University in Ottawa. “All the races are going to get disjointed, but particularly at the start of the race the attacks were so negative… The personal attacks were really basically about whether someone is a legitimate part of the party” and a reflection of the divisions between his factions.

Charest attacked Poilievre for embracing the so-called “freedom convoy” that obstructed Ottawa and blocked border crossings this year to demonstrate against public health measures, flirting with conspiracy theories about the World Economic Forum and presenting cryptocurrencies as a way to “opt out” of inflation.

“Will the Conservative Party of Canada really follow the path taken by the American parties? Charest asked during a French debate in May. “A divisive approach based on slogans…or are we going to do politics in Canada for Canadians? That’s the choice I offer you. I’m not a pseudo-American here.”

Right-wing populism is not new to Canada; it has a long history on the prairies. But the sell-off has been tougher at the federal level, said Daniel Béland, director of the Institute for Canadian Studies at McGill University in Montreal, where voters have generally elected more moderate governments.

For all Poilievre’s name-calling of the political establishment, politics has effectively been his only career.

As a university student, he was a finalist in a “As Prime Minister, I would like…”. essay contest, advocating for a two-term limit for federal lawmakers, among other promises. He is now in his seventh term, having won a first election in 2004 to represent an electoral district in the suburbs of Ottawa.

Over the years, Poilievre has earned a reputation as a fierce supporter and has a knack for putting himself in the shoes of his opponents. Some criticized what they saw as a smarmy, prisoner-less approach to internet trolls.

The Canadian Press described Poilievre in 2013 as something of a Pete Campbell from the TV drama “Mad Men”: The “character everyone loves to hate: young, conservative, ambitious and fabulously arrogant”.

Styling has gotten him in hot water at times.

Once he apologized for making an unparliamentary gesture in Parliament. It happened shortly after he was caught on the microphone using unparliamentary language.

In 2008, the day Harper, as Prime Minister, apologized for the government’s role in the residential school system that separated Indigenous children from their families, he wondered if there was “a value for all that money” that Ottawa paid to the survivors. . He then apologized.

He became federal Minister for Democratic Reform in 2013. In this role, he oversaw changes to Canada’s election laws that critics say would disenfranchise voters and limit the independence of the chief electoral officer. elections. Trudeau has since removed many changes.

The next Conservative leader will take over amid high inflation, rising interest rates and concerns about housing and grocery affordability. By the next federal election, which isn’t expected before 2025, the Trudeau Liberals will have been in power for a decade and voters may be weary and open to change.

Analysts say the leader will need to focus on broadening the party’s appeal beyond its traditional base in rural Canada and strongholds of Alberta and Saskatchewan to attract support from young voters and voters. those in the suburbs outside of Toronto and Vancouver which are the battlegrounds of the federal elections.

Béland said “Poilievre’s rhetoric is really strong and it’s something that might scare off some moderate voters,” but that he “shouldn’t be underestimated.”

He said he has focused more recently on bread and butter issues – in a campaign video, he sits at a restaurant, reciting to an unseen Trudeau how much the prices for bacon, coffee and, yes, bread and butter, rose – could be a winner.

The new leader will also have to have an eye on party unity.

“There may be defections from the other side of the party [if] Poilievre wins,” Johnston said. “We will see how he manages his caucus. He doesn’t seem inclined to grace. Looks like he’s a bad winner.”

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