Canada’s Conservatives appoint Pierre Poilievre leader against Trudeau

TORONTO — Canada’s recently unlucky Conservatives, losers of three consecutive federal elections that exposed the divisions between their populist and more moderate factions, on Saturday chose Pierre Poilievre, a scorched-earth-style populist and social media-savvy arsonist, to be their new leader to confront Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Poilievre, 43, won a resounding victory, with 68% of the vote on the first ballot, signaling a populist shift to the right for the country’s main opposition party.

The lawmaker born in Calgary, Alberta drew standing crowds – mostly unusual for leadership campaigns here – peddling grievance politics, pledging to fire the central bank governor, railing against public health mandates, pledging to naming a “free speech guardian” on college campuses and pledging to make Canada the “freest country in the world”.

“Tonight begins the journey to replace an old government that costs you more and gives you less with a new government that puts you first — your paycheck, your pension, your home, your country,” Poilievre said to applause and songs of “freedom”. during a victory speech at a convention center in Ottawa.

His campaign said it had recruited more members than the entire Conservative Party in the last two leadership races., make a play for disgruntled voters who had never attended a political rally before. In the second quarter of this year, he raised more money from donors than his leadership challengers combined. He won the support of Stephen Harper, the last Conservative Prime Minister of Canada.

Poilievre’s main opponent was former Quebec premier Jean Charest, 64, a former leader of the federal Progressive Conservative Party. A seasoned politician, he presents himself as more moderate than Poilievre, able to expand the party’s big blue tent while keeping his various factions together.

Patrick Brown, the mayor of the Toronto suburb of Brampton, Ont., was disqualified in July amid allegations that he violated federal election law on the sale of party memberships, among other complaints. (Brown denied any wrongdoing; he accused the party, without evidence, of working to secure Poilievre’s election.)

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The vote, which used a ranked ballot, was limited to dues-paying members of the Conservative Party. A record 678,000 people were eligible to vote in this year’s contest and nearly 418,000 ballots were accepted – the most for the election of a federal party leader in Canadian history. .

A record number of members were also registered in the last Conservative Party leadership race, in 2020. They chose Erin O’Toole, a lawyer and military veteran, to lead the party. But enthusiasm for the leadership race did not translate into success against Trudeau and his Liberal Party.

While campaigning to become party leader, O’Toole presented himself as a “true blue” Conservative, who was not an “Ottawa bubble product”. He pledged to “take Canada back” and defend Canada’s history against “cancelled culture and the radical left.” He denigrated his main opponent, calling him a “light liberal”.

But in last year’s federal election, O’Toole ditched the “take back Canada” rhetoric and found himself at the center. Critics accused him of being a shape-shifter who would say anything to get elected. Many conservatives hated O’Toole’s moderate platform and his shifts in key policy positions.

He won the popular vote, but not the plurality of seats in Parliament. The caucus ousted him as leader in February.

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The race to replace him has been marked by personal attacks between the candidates.

“The tone has certainly been discouraging,” said Jonathan Malloy, a political scientist at Carleton University in Ottawa. “All the races are going to get scrappy, but especially at the start of the race the attacks were so negative. … The personal attacks have really been mostly about whether someone is legitimately part of the party” and a reflection of the divisions between its factions.

During the campaign, Poilievre criticized Charest for being what he described as a closet liberal.

Charest called Poilievre ‘unfit’ to govern, attacking him for embracing the so-called ‘freedom convoy’ that has congested Ottawa and blocked border crossings this year to protest public health measures, flirting with conspiracy theories on the World Economic Forum and presenting cryptocurrencies as a way to “opt out” of inflation.

“Will the Conservative Party of Canada really follow the path taken by the American parties? Charest asked during a French debate in May. “A divisive approach based on slogans…or are we going to do politics in Canada for Canadians? This is the choice I offer you. I’m not a pseudo-American here.

On Saturday, Poilievre thanked Charest for his “service to our country and for ensuring that we always have a united country,” a reference to his efforts to stave off Quebec separatism in the 1990s.

Right-wing populism is not new to Canada; it has a long history on the prairies. But the sell-off has been tougher at the federal level, where voters have generally elected more moderate governments, said Daniel Béland, director of the Institute for Canadian Studies at McGill University in Montreal.

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For all of Poilievre’s railing against the “guardians” and the political establishment, politics was effectively his only career.

As a college student, he was a finalist in a “As Prime Minister, I would…” essay contest, advocating for a two-term limit for federal lawmakers, among other promises. He is now in his seventh term, having won a first election in 2004 to represent an electoral district in the suburbs of Ottawa.

Over the years, Poilievre has earned a reputation as a fierce supporter, with a knack for getting under his opponents’ skin. Some criticized what they saw as a smarmy, prisoner-less approach to internet trolls.

The Canadian Press described Poilievre in 2013 as something of a Pete Campbell from the TV drama “Mad Men”: The “character everyone loves to hate: young, conservative, ambitious and fabulously cocky.”

The the style sometimes got him in hot water.

Once he apologized for making an unparliamentary gesture in Parliament. It happened shortly after he was caught on the microphone using unparliamentary language.

In 2008, the day Harper, as Prime Minister, apologized for the government’s role in the residential school system that separated Indigenous children from their families, he wondered if there was “a value for all that money” that Ottawa gave to the survivors. . He then apologized.

He became federal Minister for Democratic Reform in 2013. In this role, he oversaw changes to Canada’s election laws that critics say would disenfranchise voters and limit the independence of the chief electoral officer. elections. Trudeau has since removed many changes.

Poilievre did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

He takes in an environment of high inflation, rising interest rates and concerns about housing and grocery affordability. By the next federal election, which isn’t expected before 2025, the Trudeau Liberals will have been in power for a decade and voters may be weary and open to change.

The Liberal Party said in a statement Saturday that Poilievre was “proposing dangerous ideas that would endanger our economy, our health and our safety.”

Analysts say the leader will need to focus on broadening the party’s appeal beyond its traditional base in rural Canada and strongholds of Alberta and Saskatchewan to attract support from young voters and voters. those in the suburbs outside of Toronto and Vancouver which are the battlegrounds of the federal elections.

They said his more recent focus on bread and butter issues – in a campaign video, he sits at a restaurant, reciting to an unseen Trudeau how much the prices of bacon, coffee and, yes, bread and butter, have increased – could be a winner with voters. But they noted that his diagnoses of the roots of economic concerns such as inflation and the prescriptions for dealing with them have drawn criticism from economists.

Béland said “Poilievre’s rhetoric is really strong, and it’s something that might scare off some moderate voters,” but that he “shouldn’t be underestimated.”

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