The Home Stretch

I received an email from a reader asking why I hadn’t written more about the race for the Conservative Party of Canada leadership. Given that the winner may be the next Prime Minister, it is something that will affect a lot of Canadians.

Tuesday is the deadline for the mail-in ballots to be submitted, with teh tally and announcement coming up on Saturday. There are still five candidates in the running, though the media have it as a two person race, with a predestined outcome.

Maybe I haven’t written much as the campaign unfolded because I have been influenced by the media’s prounouncement of a winner months before the votes were cast. We know the media are never wrong. 

Still, it does seem likely that the candidate who sold the most party memberships, Pierre Poilievre, has the inside track. His campaign claimed it had sold 312,000 members (of 680,000). His challenge will be getting those people to mail in their ballot.

Poilievre has run what has been described as a populist campaign. Certainly he has captured the imagination of a lot of people – and the approbation of many more. He has become somewhat of a polarizing figure in Canadian politics, and his campaign has reflected that. 

I’m not sure of the wisdom of the approach. At times the message has been, to my way of thinking, overly negative. I have a very good idea of what Pierre Poilievre is against. What he stands for is less clear.

Looking at his political track record, I see him as essentially a moderate conservative – despite the way those outside the party have attempted to portray him. He is fiscally but not socially conservative. He may appeal to social conservatives with a message of “freedom” and rejection of the “gatekeepers,” but he plans no changes to policy in those areas social conservatives hold dear, such as abortion or same-sex marriage. 

However, he may garner their support as being a better alternative to the Liberals od New Democrats. It depends on the individual – most people use a number of different criteria to evaluate a candidate. Few of us are single issue voters.

His flirting with crypto currencies seems to have faded with the decline in value of Bitcoin, and perhaps the realization that there are more important fiscal issues.

Poilievre has though tapped into the angst of a people dealing with inflation, unaffordable housing and a global pandemic. He exudes a confidence that he can fix things. 

Politics is all about hope. People vote for change, for this or that new candidate because they believe there must be something or someone better. Poilievre, who has spent his entire adult life as a politician, is convincing people that he can be a positive agent for change. 

That is a potent belief to counter. His leadership opponents have been drowned out in the fanfare (though Jean Charest and Leslyn Lewis may surprise people with the strength of their showing). The media has portrayed teh six-month campaign as a coronation.

The governing Liberals don’t seem to know what do do about the possibility of a Poilievre victory. On many occasions in the House of Commons Poilievre has made Prime Minister Justin Trudeau look like a fool. (Trudeau’s critics might point out that isn’t too difficult.) On the campaign trail and in televised debates there is no reason to think things would be different.

At the same time, the Liberals feel a Poilievre victory would fragment the Conservative Party. Perhaps a quick election before he has the chance to heal the wounds of the leadership campaign might be advantageous. Especially as they think he is a loose cannon who would manage to make a major gaffe that would lose the election.

Many pundits say Poilievre may win the party leadership but his positions preclude him from ever becoming Prime Minister. Their thinking is that Canadians are more centrist in their viewpoints, and Poilievre is too right-wing for the average voter.

I understand that anlaysis, but don’t agree with the conclusion. The centre-left Liberals have managed to alienate a lot of people though mismanagement on issues people care about. If he wins the party ladership, I expect Poilievre to win the next federal election.

However, I’m not completely convinced, even with the impressive membership numbers, that a Poilievre victory is guaranteed.

We’ll find out Saturday night.

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