If Pierre Poilievre is crowned leader of Canada’s Conservative Party, as it seems more and more likely, the conventional wisdom is that the CCP will have referred itself to another decade in the political desert.
Poilievre is likely to fall victim to the pain the last two leaders have suffered. There is the leadership of a political base whose views stand in stark contrast to a large majority of Canadians, with an inability to turn to positions that are not repulsive to that majority. He will also inherit a party and a caucus that is hopelessly divided on fundamental issues.
There are three obvious hotspots: weapons, climate and COVID. Most Canadians want our epidemic of gun violence under control. Poilievre will not say how he will do so, as his base vehemently opposes any restriction on their freedom to own a dozen offensive-type weapons if they so choose.
Conservatives around the world have fallen into the trap of portraying the fight against climate change as a left-wing plot, no more hysterical than the strange Peter. There is also no focal point for him here. As fires rage this summer and floods drown dozens of communities this fall, it will stand politically dry.
He will also not be able to throw away his COVID luggage as public health challenges continue. From his jokes about vaccines, to his flirtation with rebellious truck drivers, to his mockery of public health measures that saved thousands of Canadians from death, Poilievre will pull a very heavy COVID ball behind him, the one his opponents – inside the party and out – is sure to stay focused on.
Perhaps his biggest weakness in winning Canadians’ trust is that he will not have the support of at least a third of his own party from day one. Whether it’s Brian Mulroney, Patrick Brown, Michael Chong, Rona Ambrose or Lisa Raitt, there’s a long list of partialities who will express their grief – and anger – over the political stalemate that Poilievre seems to be pulling their party into.
All of this may not happen if he can find his way back to political reason without being seen breaking with his base. This seems like a slim view for two reasons. First, unlike Erin O’Toole, who did not believe much in the nonsense he had to support in the leadership race, this cold political opportunist seems to believe that much of that nonsense will get him elected.
Can bankers and the financial world be convinced that he is not just a fool to suggest that he can remove the board and governor of the Bank of Canada? Not soon. Will someone who is not gripped by cryptocurrency – the same Canadians who spend too much on lottery tickets – think that a bitcoin fanatic should hand over the keys to the treasury?
Like Jason Kenney, Poilievre is one of those Canadian conservatives who has never had a real-world job – unless you think of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation as part of the real world. He is blind to the irony of claiming to be an elite wrestler. After all, he was a lifelong member of one of the elite’s most armored bastions: political lifeguards.
But … conventional wisdom can again be wrong.
This week, polling firm Abacus found that at least seven out of 10 Poilievre supporters are open to the idea that the Davos elites may have a “secret strategy to impose their vision on the world.” And more than a third are open to the claim “Bill Gates uses microchips to track people and influence their behavior.” Unfortunately, the numbers for the whole of Canada are not that low on these grounds.
So it may be easier to ride a Trumpian tidal wave of anger toward political success in Canada than most of us thought. One can hope that opponents of Poilievre’s leadership will do better to expose the nakedness of this future emperor, and that Liberals and new Democrats will relentlessly beat him with their greatest cannons.
Our unlikely nation has survived many political charlatans. This is perhaps the most dangerous yet.