Pierre Poilievre: A Populist Takes the Lead of Canada’s Conservatives | Political news

Montreal Canada – The federal Conservative Party of Canada has chosen a populist career politician to be its next leader, betting on Pierre Poilievre to take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals after a string of election defeats.

Poilievre’s victory had been a foregone conclusion for months as most opinion polls ahead of Saturday night’s party convention showed his incendiary political rhetoric resonated with members – and gave him a comfortable lead on his closest rival, the more centrist Jean Charest.

“It’s not my victory, it’s yours,” Poilievre told the crowd from the convention stage in the capital, Ottawa, after his landslide victory was announced. He garnered 68% support on the first ballot, compared to 16% for Charest.

“Tonight begins the journey to replace an old government that costs you more and gives you less, with a new government that puts you first – your paycheck, your pension, your home, your country,” he said. he declares.

Poilievre celebrates alongside his wife Anaida after being elected the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada [Blair Gable/Reuters]

Experts say the longtime politician’s rise signals Canada’s main opposition party’s rightward shift and embrace of right-wing populist discourse, which is gaining traction in the country as well as globally.

While many wonder whether Poilievre’s embrace among conservatives will trickle down to the broader Canadian electorate — or result in a victory against the Liberals, who have been in government since 2015 — its effect on the political landscape in Canada is already being felt.

“His rise…tells us that members of the Conservative Party have clearly moved in a right-wing direction and are now more receptive to this kind of populist messaging that he honed,” said Jim Bickerton, professor of political science at St. Francis Xavier.

Bickerton described Poilievre as a highly provocative libertarian and “probably the most right-wing leader” of a prominent political party Canada has ever seen.

“[He] uses the populist language that we associate with American politics, especially the Republican base in the United States, around personal freedom and opposition to any restrictions imposed by the government,” he told Al Jazeera.

career politician

First elected to the House of Commons in 2004, Poilievre has represented ridings in the Ottawa area ever since. He held the portfolios of Democratic Reform and Jobs and Social Development in the cabinet of longtime Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who was in government from 2006 until the party lost to the Liberals in 2015.

The nominations came after Poilievre earned a reputation as what a Canadian columnist recently dubbed “Harper’s personal attack chihuahua.”

At the time, Poilievre made a name for himself as a right-wing hardliner and drew the ire of opposition lawmakers and political observers for his inflammatory and hyperpartisan rhetoric in parliament. In 2013, left-leaning New Democrats said his rise demonstrated that “to become Stephen Harper’s minister, you have to leave the truth behind and accept petty attacks.”

More recently, Poilievre has focused much of his Conservative leadership campaign on defending personal liberties and “freedom.”

He attacked Trudeau for cost-of-living increases; criticized the Liberal government for imposing vaccination mandates and other measures during the COVID-19 pandemic, and said it would fire the head of the Bank of Canada over rising inflation. He backed anti-vaccine protesters who occupied Ottawa for weeks earlier this year and accused “liberal media” of bias in their coverage of the convoy, which was led by far-right activists.

Pierre Poilievre (left) shakes hands with then Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2013
Poilievre (left) served as a cabinet minister in former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government [File: Chris Wattie/Reuters]

“Poilievre is really a career politician, which is a bit of a paradox for someone who has [this] a kind of anti-elite rhetoric,” said Daniel Beland, director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada at McGill University in Montreal.

“[He is] someone who really put forward very strong anti-Trudeau, anti-liberal rhetoric… [and] someone who doesn’t mince words. He’s really known for that, he’s been known for that for a long time.

In June, Poilievre publicly reprimand a Canadian journalist who asked his team to explain their support for a man linked to far-right groups. He was also questioned a few weeks later for shaking hands with the leader of Diagolon, a far-right Canadian organization, at a campaign event.

“It is impossible to perform background checks on every person who attends my events,” Poilievre’s campaign told Global News in a statement last month. “As I always have, I denounce racism and anyone who propagates it. I did not know or recognize this particular individual.

But that was dismissed by Barbara Perry, director of the Center on Hatred, Bias and Extremism at Ontario Tech University, who said Poilievre needed to do a lot more if he was to distance himself from those supporters. He also “played in defamation” of the media and the liberal government, Perry said, who in turn encourages more extreme elements to do the same.

In recent weeks, Canadian women journalists – especially black women and women of color – have faced a barrage of death threats, slurs and other forms of harassment online, while politicians raised concerns for their safety amid verbal attacks and intimidation.

“Even during the convoy, [Poilievre] wasn’t sweet peddling at all. He was not trying to distance himself from the extreme right elements who were at the head of this movement. He was really in the middle of it, so it falls on deaf ears when he tries to pretend it’s not his policy,” Perry told Al Jazeera.

“He sees it as playing the grassroots of the party…He’s definitely trying to pull people from the center to the right,” Perry said, adding that Poilievre is also trying to bring back voters who have abandoned the Conservatives in favor of the party. far-right wing of the People’s Party of Canada, led by former Conservative leadership candidate and minister Maxime Bernier.

“Because he is part of the Conservative Party and not a fringe party, that makes him all the more attractive – again to lend [far-right groups] a certain legitimacy and to give this messaging legitimacy.

pierre poilievre during the leadership debate
Poilievre takes part in a debate in Ottawa on May 5, 2022 [Blair Gable/Reuters]

“Poilievre’s Party Now”

Despite such criticism, last month former prime minister Harper endorsed Poilievre’s leadership bid, describing him as “the strongest and most effective critic of the Trudeau Liberals” and praising his success in attracting “a new generation’ among the Conservatives. In June, Poilievre’s campaign said it recruited more than 311,000 new party members, Canadian media reported.

“He spoke about the issues, especially the economic issues, that matter: slow growth, debt, inflation, lack of job and housing opportunities, and the need to fix the institutions that are failing Canadian families,” he said. Harper said in a video. share on social networks. “It offers answers rooted in sound conservative ideas, but adapted to today’s realities.”

Poilievre’s campaign did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on its policy priorities, as well as recent criticism.

But while Harper’s ability to maintain unity between the progressive and more populist wings of the Conservative Party of Canada – formed in 2003 by the merger of the Progressive Conservative and Canadian Alliance parties – has helped him stay in power for nearly 10-year-old rallying conservatives doesn’t appear to be one of Poilievre’s top priorities. Some say it doesn’t matter.

Harper’s endorsement “made Poilievre the unity candidate – that is, it called for subsuming the party’s ideological diversity under Poilievre’s libertarian conservatism served with a dollop of populist pastiche. It’s Poilievre’s party now. This is bad news for conservatives and for the country,” Canadian political analyst David Moscrop wrote in The Washington Post newspaper last month.

Lori Turnbull, director of Dalhousie University’s School of Public Administration, said Poilievre “ultimately wants to win.” “He is not there to understand the existential question of how to bring the party together. He is not interested in anyone but his own.

And while former Tory leaders returned to center after winning the party’s top job in a bid to take votes from the Liberals in the general election, Turnbull said Poilievre would go “full steam”.

A pivot, if that happens, would be to be more specific about his ideas: “Because he is going to be the leader of the opposition, he is going to have to say something in parliament, ask questions of the Prime Minister, and take legislative measures. a space that is not about vague ideas of freedom,” Turnbull told Al Jazeera.

She said she expects Poilievre to try to win the support of working-class Canadians and those frustrated with the current policy options available to them, as well as capitalize on the sentiment anti-Trudeau that developed during the pandemic. “I think he’s looking at the successes of other politicians over the last five or ten years who wanted to appeal beyond typical partisan lines,” Turnbull said.

“Nothing would make Pierre Poilievre happier than defeating Justin Trudeau. It would be like a coronation for him because he viscerally hates him.

Pundits said Poilievre could not be counted out to win an election for the Conservatives. “Poilievre is a savvy politician. He has experience and should not be underestimated,” said Beland of McGill University. “We thought [Donald] Trump wouldn’t win in 2016 and he found a way to win.

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