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Why the left shouldn’t underestimate Pierre Poilievre

Poilievre is a sharp speaker who has a considerable social media presence and is idolized by Conservatives across the country

Canadian Politics

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre comments on the finance committee’s WE Charity affair study, November 16, 2020. Still image courtesy CPAC/YouTube.

Erin O’Toole is out as Conservative leader. After a disappointing 2021 election result in which the Conservatives failed to pick up any new seats, and a muddled response to the trucker protest in Ottawa that galvanized much of his party, O’Toole was defeated on February 2 in a 73-45 vote of the Conservative parliamentary caucus.

O’Toole had a bit of a soft-touch approach to politicking. Unlike Andrew Scheer, he made an express effort to court voters from other parties on left-of-centre issues. He made largely meaningless entreaties to lower-income voters, for instance, introducing a set of pleasant-sounding but essentially useless labour reforms. He tried to moderate the party’s position on climate, notably introducing a carbon tax policy. O’Toole also locked party votes on LGBTQ issues, notably whipping a vote in favour of a ban on conversion therapy (amusingly, this seems to have been a key reason for his ouster).

In short, he was a “Red Tory”—a Conservative politician who leaned ever-so-slightly to the left of his party. His commitments didn’t amount to much, but they did earn plaudits from some credulous media figures and put him at odds with the more reactionary elements of his parliamentary coalition, “Blue Tory” figures who are likely to take the reins now that O’Toole has been vanquished.

And the leading Blue Tory? That would be Pierre Poilievre, an MP who represents the Ottawa-area riding of Carleton. Poilievre is a compelling, sharp speaker who has a considerable social media presence and is idolized by Conservatives across the country, particularly among the younger set. He is a relentless questioner in Parliament who sometimes gets the better of Justin Trudeau. Perhaps most importantly, Poilievre gets a lot of play in the media, and has been floated as the leadership favourite in multiple publications. Assuming Poilievre is not derailed by personal concerns, he could very well be the Conservative leader by this summer or fall.

Frankly, this should be terrifying to the Canadian left.

Poilievre is a true blue conservative hardliner who is constantly pushing right-wing talking points. Other Conservative MPs typically maintain an arm’s length relationship with reactionary think tanks and advocacy organizations—not so with Poilievre. He frequently tweets stories from the Fraser Institute, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, and other right-wing groups. He also peddles right-wing talking points in Parliament; his latest push is to characterize recent stimulus spending as “printed money,” demanding spending cuts as a solution to inflation concerns.

Fitting with his youthful appearance, Poilievre is essentially an unreconstructed Conservative activist, someone who idolizes Margaret Thatcher and Jordan Peterson. He’s not a “compassionate Conservative” like O’Toole, or a sort of tepid populist like Doug Ford. Poilievre is a reactionary austerity monger in the mold of a Jason Kenney, someone who will fight unions, suffocate the public sector, and cut welfare, even if those policies prove highly unpopular.

Poilievre’s writing suggests as much. He once took to the pages of the Financial Post to advocate for right-to-work legislation, laws that would strip unions of most of their funding by making union dues voluntary, and floated the idea of introducing a right-to-work bill to his constituents. In the same publication, Poilievre called the Canadian welfare state “horrific” and spoke favourably of eliminating all welfare policies, replacing them with a “tiny survival stipend for all low-income people.” Poilievre has been the Conservative point man attacking CERB and other pandemic-related government assistance, writing that the government should “put down the credit card” in December of 2020, during the most deadly period of the coronavirus pandemic.

In Parliament, Poilievre is equally austerian. He took point on pushing Bill C-377, an attempt to hamstring unions by forcing them to disclose reams of information for anti-union activists to exploit. Poilievre made over one hundred parliamentary speeches supporting C-377, as well as C-525 and similar anti-union efforts. In recent years, he has been laser-focused on critiquing the Liberal government’s unambitious fiscal policies from the right.

We need a bold and militant left that will expose Poilievre for what he is—a right-wing fanatic who takes his cues from Milton Friedman and the Fraser Institute. A Pierre Poilievre-led Conservative government is a terrifying prospect indeed.

Oliver Mackenzie is a Victoria-based video producer and writer who works for a variety of government, nonprofit, and media clients.

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