Things seem to be going pretty well for Pierre Poilievre these days. Just over a month ago, he took the helm of the Conservative Party with a commanding 68% of the vote. Recent polls show the CPC maintaining a steady lead over the Liberals under his nascent leadership. And while the next federal election could be up to three years away, the geographic power balance looks quite encouraging for Team Poilievre: 8 of Canada’s 10 provinces are currently governed by conservative or right of centre majority governments.
But with Conservative premiers increasingly questioning the federal fabric that ties together Canada’s confederation, will Poilievre’s allies in the provinces hurt more than they can help? Let’s take a look.
In Alberta, Premier Danielle Smith recently ascended to the provincial throne on the promise of what she has been calling a sovereignty act – an unprecedented move that would, theoretically, empower the province to refuse to enforce federal laws or policies, as it sees fit. Contrary to reports that Smith planned to soften her stance, the newly-annointed premier doubled down on the idea during her inaugural press conference last Tuesday.
Elsewhere in the prairies, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe made headlines last week by unveiling a “manifesto” that promises to safeguard the province’s constitutional rights, grant it greater autonomy over immigration policy, and take legal action to keep control of oil and gas emission regulations. “It’s time to defend and assert Saskatchewan’s economic autonomy by drawing the line,” said Moe, “taking a number of steps including the introduction of provincial legislation to clarify and protect Saskatchewan’s constitutional rights.”
And in Quebec, Premier François Legault’s Coalition Avenir Québec made easy work of the competition and swept to a second consecutive majority government earlier this month. Although Legault has pledged to brush the sovereignty issue under the rug, his continued insistence that Quebec more boldly pave its own path has caused Ottawa no shortage of headaches in recent years.
On the one hand, Poilievre has plenty of reason to leverage what appears to be a growing wave of anti-federal sentiment – especially out west – in his quest for the keys to the Prime Minister’s Office. Despite representing an Ottawa-area riding for nearly two decades, Poilievre identifies as a Calgarian at heart. And this means that he has the chance to align himself with those who see themselves as victims of an overbearing, vindictive, and power-hungry approach by Ottawa toward the provinces – something that no other federal party can play to their advantage. Why let a good political opportunity go to waste?
On the other hand, Poilievre will need to tread carefully if he hopes to lead the country someday soon. Stirring or appeasing anti-federal sentiment while you’re the leader of the opposition is one thing, but doing so while you’re Prime Minister is a different ball game. Sure, Conservative Leader Poilievre has the freedom to argue that Justin Trudeau’s divisive policies are what alienated the west in the first place, and that he’ll do what it takes to bring the prairies back into the fold. But how well will Prime Minister Poilievre be able to uphold any promise of getting the federal government out of the provinces’ business if or when he is the federal government?
And then there’s the question of Quebec. Whereas the Conservatives’ political dominance in Alberta and Saskatchewan largely goes without question these days, La Belle Province poses a different kind of challenge for the party. Will Poilievre take the political gamble of appeasing – or encouraging – Legault’s autonomous moves in hopes of increasing turnout for his party in a province where its seats can be counted on two hands? And how would such a tactic play out with his base in the traditionally Quebec-wary prairies?
The next federal election is still a ways away, but these are all questions that Poilievre will need to pay serious attention to – without stepping into any traps of his own making.