Last Wednesday, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre engaged in his first media scrum on Parliament Hill in more than eighty days. His previous media availability with the parliamentary press gallery was on September 13, in the immediate aftermath of his successful leadership bid. Recently, Poilievre’s unequivocal eschewing of the parliamentary press gallery has been a salient topic. Chantal Hébert, for example, offered a strong condemnation of Poilevre’s mainstream embargo, arguing that he has subsequently “fall[en] off the media radar.” Meanwhile, Geoff Russ, in a piece for the Hub, explored the question of whether Pierre could be classified as “the first influencer in Canadian politics.” Poilieve’s communications strategy is certainly unique, but is it effective?
Social Media – A Force for Direct Engagement
Poilievre’s team relies heavily on social media — a direct messaging doctrine that circumvents traditional media intermediaries. In the leadership campaign, this served his candidacy well. Poilievre won the leadership decisively, securing 22,993 of the 33,800 electoral points. On YouTube, his strategy has yielded some positive metrics. His campaign launch video has performed particularly impressively, boasting nearly 800,000 views. In the next federal election, this social media following will be a strong tool for voter mobilization and Conservative fundraising.
Mainstream Media for the Mainstream Voter
There are also downsides to adopting a hermetic media posture. We live in a utilitarian democracy, where politicians must focus on finding a formula that appeals to the majority of voters. Gaining the trust of most Canadians requires consistent coverage in widely distributed news publications, television, and radio broadcasts. A recent study shows that mainstream media sources still dominate where Canadians receive their news. Maru Public Opinion polled Canadian adults who check the news daily (86%), and found that 45% of respondents receive their news from a TV newscast, followed by newspaper websites (29%) and TV stations dedicated to business news (29%). Social media sites ranked lower — only 26% of Canadians receive daily news from social media sites like Facebook or Instagram, and 14% relied on Twitter. In other words, mainstream media is still the primary conveyor of federal political news to the average voter. By abjuring the parliamentary press gallery, Poilievre is losing an opportune platform to amplify his policies.
“To Validate,” Or Not, That is the Question
Indeed, Poilievre has recently explained his precinct behavior. In an interview with the conservative-friendly True North Centre, while referring to members of the gallery, he asserted that: “for the most part, there is a definite bias in favor of just defending the government and regurgitating its talking points, and I don’t need to validate that.” Notably, Poilievre has never avowed that his anti-gallery posture will be permanent. Nor does this systemic abnegation pre-date his leadership. As Finance critic, he regularly engaged with the parliamentary press. Through his selective silence, Poilievre is making a statement; in all likelihood, a rapprochement is forthcoming (at least by election season).
While Poilievre’s recent scrum may be an outlier, many are wondering whether it marks the end of the leader’s media disengagement strategy. Will Poilievre alter his current communications approach? It is an undisputed certainty that the press gallery is waiting for him. When, and if, he returns, there are several high-quality, handheld microphones, extended to catch his every word.