A New King of the Castle

3 minute read

In what was less than a photo finish, Pierre Poilievre has been crowned King of the Conservatives. With a decisive victory and a united caucus, the next question is, can Poilievre’s Conservatives win over Canadians ahead of the next election? 

The new leader has breathed new life into the CPC, at least according to public opinion data. A recent Abacus Data poll shows the CPC now lead the Liberals by 5 points. While Poilievre’s negatives increased from 22% at the outset of the Conservative leadership campaign to 34%, his popularity has also increased to 29% as more Canadians get to know him. Meanwhile Justin Trudeau’s disapproval rating, which is currently at its highest level since he took office in 2015, is hovering around 48%.

With the leadership race decided and a dominant performance by Poilievre, the Conservative’s focus will shift to defeating Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party in the next election. Unlike his predecessors, Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole, who only nearly won their leadership races, Poilievre has been given a clear mandate by grassroots supporters of the CPC who are hungry to return to government.

As his predecessors discovered,winning a leadership campaign is considerably different than winning a general election. Conservative Party members’ priorities often differ from those of the typical Canadian. To his credit, Poilievre is nimble on his feet, skilled at delivering a soundbite, and successful in demoralizing his rivals. 

His tone, though, may prove to be a challenge. Canadians may be unlikely to appreciate his persistent criticism of the Central Bank and other Canadian institutions. In general, Canadians have more faith in these institutions than they do in politicians. The effectiveness of using Tiff Macklem, Governor of the Bank of Canada, as a battering ram to bring down the Liberals over growing inflation and living expenses may be limited.

Nevertheless, this is not the first time a Conservative leader has employed a well-known person to knock their opponent out, WWE-style. Doug Ford dubbed Hydro One CEO Mayo Schmidt “the six million dollar guy” during the 2018 Ontario election and blamed him for the growing cost of power, which was a contentious topic at the time. Ford made a campaign pledge to dismiss the CEO if they won. However, the CEO left before Ford could fulfill his pledge, and replacing him came at a very significant cost.

Blaming non-partisan federal officials for carrying out their duties is a good political move, but seldom results in sound policy. It is challenging for any politician, no matter how skilled, to play retail politics on the complexities of Canada’s monetary policies. The affordability problem that many Canadians are currently experiencing has multiple causes, and Canadians are looking for policy solutions rather than blaming someone who cannot defend themselves without endangering their neutrality.

The finger-pointing extends beyond institutions for the new Conservative leader. Just days after being elected, Poilievre got into an argument with a Global News reporter and referred to the reporter as a “Liberal heckler” while at a press conference. The exchange between the new leader and the media was odd, to say the least, but fits into Poilievre’s broader message of the mainstream media being against the Conservatives. The Conservatives went as far as to send out a fundraising email to further build their war chest and highlight the “us vs them” narrative. 

There is a real opportunity for Poilievre and his Conservative Party. Canadians are getting tired of the not-so-sunny ways of Justin Trudeau and his government. The next election will be a real test of the Trudeau brand and his nearly decade of power. 

Instead of calling eachother names, Canadians will be seeking answers to the difficulties they face every day. Now is the moment for the Conservatives to put out practical proposals that will have an impact, with the economy continuing to struggle. Canadians are not just looking for a tax credit here and there, but new and innovative ideas will address the cost of living. 

As Canada looks for true leadership from its political leaders in these challenging times, the Conservatives have a real opportunity to be that leader. Before they can do that, their tone and approach may need to change if they hope to get the keys to the Prime Minister’s Office.

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