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Poilievre’s Big Bet on Convoy-Loving Politics

A deep dive into how Conservatives stole from Trump’s playbook. And the risks it poses for the party and Canada.

Michael Harris 5 Apr 2023TheTyee.ca

Michael Harris, a Tyee contributing editor, is a highly awarded journalist and documentary maker. Author of Party of One, the bestselling exposé of the Harper government, his investigations have sparked four commissions of inquiry.

The Canadian Press picked the “Freedom Convoy” as the biggest news story of 2022. The Conservative Party of Canada made it the biggest political gamble of its recent history.

The party wagered that the protest that morphed into an occupation could supercharge aggrievement across the country. They saw potential in the pandemic’s persistent pain, recent chaos at the country’s airports, a sputtering health-care system and brutal inflation. Just maybe the trucker’s protest could distill all that frustration into one compelling and very useful spectacle.

And so the Conservative party lurched to the populist right in the very first days of dysfunction in Ottawa. It abruptly changed leaders, championed the truckers, and came after Justin Trudeau personally. They were betting that with the help of evangelicals, angry blue collar workers and the usual fatigue with any three-term government, the truckers would chauffeur them back into power.

And no matter what he and his allies will say publicly, Poilievre’s direction for the Conservatives clearly was inspired by Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again movement.

He’s employed many Trumpian tactics, including attacking the media and a nebulous class of “gatekeepers,” exploiting social media’s honeycomb of echo chambers, darkly characterizing the nation as “broken” and demonizing Trudeau the way the MAGA wing of the GOP villainized Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden.

A year later, the hazards of MAGA emulation daily become more manifest, as a wildly unhinged Trump threatens “death and destruction” for being indicted and lionizes the seditionists who invaded the U.S. Capitol building. As the MAGA faithful feed on crazy conspiracies and big lies, Republican leaders afraid to draw their wrath genuflect to Trump’s cult of personality.

It’s an extremely dangerous game, but Canada’s Conservatives were tempted to believe they could manage the risks for a simple reason: desperation. The Liberals had won a minority government in September 2021, their third consecutive victory under Trudeau’s leadership. Although the Conservatives won the popular vote, they took just 119 seats, compared to 160 for the Liberals and 25 for the NDP. The Conservative party lost seats in key regions despite leading in the early polls, and they ended up with fewer seats than ousted leader Andrew Scheer had won.

Then panic was presented with an opportunity.

THE GOD OF ANGER

On Jan. 22, 2022 the “Freedom Convoy” began making its way to Ottawa from all over Canada, reaching the capital on the evening of Jan. 28. The next day truckers and other protesters began blocking the Coutts border crossing between Alberta and Montana.

On Feb. 3, 2022, far-right Calgary pastor Artur Pawlowski travelled to Coutts to address the blockade: “They have waged a war against our way of life, against freedoms that were given to us by our God.” While hinting ominously that bloodshed might be required, Pawlowski urged the protesters to not lose their momentum and not give up their power.

Arrested five days later at his home and charged with mischief for inciting people to commit criminal acts, the preacher awaits a May verdict in what he somewhat grandly referred to as “the trial of the century.” In the meantime Pawlowski has managed to be the story of the moment in Alberta for recording his startling conversation with Premier Danielle Smith in which she pledged sympathy and admiration and said she’d been regularly checking on his case with the province’s justice officials.

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Anti-mandate demonstrators gather as a truck convoy blocks the highway at the busy US border crossing in Coutts, Alberta on Jan. 31, 2022. Soon arrived extremist preacher Artur Pawlowski to talk of ‘war against our way of life.’ Photo by Jeff McIntosh via the Canadian Press.

There was an unmistakable evangelical Christian undercurrent to the protests across Canada. Biblical references were visible everywhere, and there were curbside sermons from preachers in Ottawa. One sign read, “We must obey God rather than men.”

On Feb. 7, protesters blocked the Ambassador Bridge connecting Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit, Michigan. It was Canada’s busiest commercial crossing, with an estimated $300 million to $450 million in trade passing through this main border conduit every day.

Protesters intent on getting what they wanted ignored the risk to thousands of jobs, particularly in the auto industry that relied on timely supply chain turnarounds at the border. American industrialists, stricken by supply chain problems, began thinking about the magic words “Made in America.”

American concern spooked big banks in Canada. They were worried about the opinions of U.S. investors. Could usually secure Canada be relied on as a destination for stable investment? According to Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland’s testimony at the Emergencies Act inquiry launched in September, one U.S. businessman even quipped that Canada was a “banana republic.” Why? Because the protest had not been dealt with expeditiously. Bottom line? A small group of protesters had brought the capital city of Canada to a halt and shut off a huge chunk of north-south trade that the country depends upon.

Windsor Mayor Drew Dilkens testified at the inquiry that the protest had cost his city about $5 million. It had even blocked access to grocery stores for local residents. He also testified that a group called the Harvest Bible Church had encouraged its members to come to the Ambassador Bridge protest, and that there were children among the group. That fact delayed the police from moving in that day. According to Freeland’s testimony at the inquiry, the defining fear of the Trudeau government was that there would be “blood on the face of a child.”

The Harvest Bible Church in Windsor describes itself as non-denominational, a holy hub where Christians of various stripes “can partner together” in “essential beliefs, so the world may know Jesus.” Members need not agree on every non-essential belief, but they do stand together on core convictions.

Those articles of faith thrust them into politics with immediate legal consequences. Their first summons was issued in December 2020. Lead pastor Rev. Aaron Rock was charged under the Reopening Ontario Act by Windsor police for a gathering on Dec. 19. The church warned it would “go underground” if worshipers were not permitted to gather on Christmas Eve. The lockdown was “an affront to religious liberties,” and they threatened to “practise further civil disobedience.”

The police issued a second summons to the pastor at the Windsor church in May 2021, for holding in-person services contrary to COVID regulations. Rock posted a sign outside the church: “Christ is king, not Premier Ford. Praying he repents.”

The church had continued holding gatherings despite a provincial lockdown. During the previous weekend over 100 people had allegedly visited the church, many without masks.

A statement issued by the church said “lockdowns are causing serious damage to our community” and “we are obligated under divine law to meet in person to worship the Lord Jesus Christ.

“We look forward to the day when elected officials will again uphold the supremacy of God and rule of law in accordance with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.”

With a careful eye on politics south of the border, the Conservative party was well aware that evangelical churches in the U.S. were some of Trump’s staunchest supporters. Caleb Campbell is an evangelical pastor at Desert Springs Bible Church in Phoenix, Arizona. He attended a Turning Point USA meeting that had been described by some of his fellow Christians as a revival event.

In a way it was. The rituals were familiar — Christian music, prayer, the collection plate. But there were elements that left Campbell “absolutely terrified and horrified.” The person delivering the homily was not a pastor but a prominent conservative broadcaster. He was talking “like a pastor would talk.” He even brought a Bible to the pulpit. He was referring to the Book of Jeremiah, but changing the words to support gun rights and school choice. The separation of church and state, he claimed, was a lie.

The ambition of Turning Point USA Faith was to get church leaders to organize religious leaders, giving them resources “to activate their congregations to fight for free people, free markets, free speech and limited government.” In response to such rhetoric, people in the room were raising their hands and saying “Amen. Hallelujah.”

Campbell immersed himself in that world, even attending an upscale resort with 500 other pastors. Their bills were paid by an unknown donor. There he saw religious principles twisted to inspire fear that Christianity was under threat by ethnic minorities or liberal elites. He came to understand that Trump’s “Make America Great Again” was “an appeal to ethnic preservation” under the fig leaf of defending a Christian nation. It was the religious right and the moral majority locking arms, speaking together violent language to advance “culture war politics.” In effect it was the Trump church.

When Campbell pushed back, his own white, suburban parish shrank dramatically. It went from 800 to just 300 faithful. Fear and anger were feeding their personal beliefs.

PANDEMIC POPULISM

The “Freedom Convoy” in Canada began rolling toward Ottawa just over a year after the Capitol assault by people convinced of false narratives promoted by President Trump and his enablers. The biggest lie of all, of course, was that the 2020 presidential election had been stolen.

In Canada, the convoy truckers considered COVID measures an assault on their liberty. Never mind that vaccine campaigns saved Canada billions of dollars and 34,900 lives, according to the C.D. Howe Institute. Protesters felt morally righteous, angry and assertive. Who, after all, wasn’t upset by the pandemic?

But the purposes of the protest expanded well beyond removing pandemic mandates. As a memorandum of understanding crafted by a key convoy group laid it out, the aim was getting rid of Trudeau and taking over the government. People may have thought that was something of a joke. It wasn’t. The goal was to remove a government that Canadians had elected just a few months before.

Many protesters believed that God had instructed them to join the fight.

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Convoy protesters near Parliament Hill on Jan. 29, 2022. While the truckers were holding Ottawa hostage, the CPC was making dramatic plans of its own, a secret ballot vote to force a leadership review. Photo by Adrian Wyld via the Canadian Press.

Poilievre had started out protesting against vaccine mandates for cross-border truckers. But as the convoy converged on Ottawa, Poilievre began framing the protest as a broader uprising against the Trudeau government and its economic record. His purpose was not to assuage the truckers and send them home, but to make Trudeau wear the chaos.

There was much more to the protest than bouncy castles and hot tubs. The grievances were remarkably similar to those of the protesters that stormed the U.S. Capitol. People felt they had been given a raw deal by elites, and they were determined to shake things up. Freedom was the common catch phrase, but people who lived in Ottawa felt unsafe. Diesel fumes choked the air. Shops were forced to shutter. Citizens felt threatened on the street and embassies complained about lack of access and the constant noise.

While the truckers were honking their horns and holding Ottawa hostage, the Conservative party was making dramatic plans of its own. There was a secret ballot taking place in Ottawa on the morning of Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2022. A Conservative leadership review had been originally scheduled for the party’s national convention in 2023. But earlier in the week, about a third of the Conservative caucus, 35 members, had signed a letter that successfully forced an early leadership review. Erin O’Toole would need more than 50 per cent support to keep his job.

Of the 118 votes cast, 73 MPs voted to oust O’Toole. Although party MPs claimed they wanted to replace a “tired, corrupt, tax-and-spend Liberal government,” it was the Conservatives who were tired — tired of losing.

The caucus had been restless since November, but the rush to unseat O’Toole was done under the radar and with unseemly haste. Four days after the convoy arrived in Ottawa, O’Toole was deposed. Three days later, Poilievre was in the race to succeed him, soon to have the blessing of none other than his mentor, former prime minister and Conservative leader Stephen Harper.

THE BOOK OF STEPHEN

Harper well understood that religious groups could be a great political asset. During his time in office, he wooed evangelicals and benefited from their support. As PM, he created the Office of Religious Freedom which earned points with evangelicals by focusing on discrimination against Christian minorities in the Middle East.

Harper himself is a longtime member of the 100-year-old Christian and Missionary Alliance church, which believes Jesus shall soon return to Earth amidst an apocalypse in which the faithful will be raptured to heaven. Women are not ordained and the church is strongly opposed to abortion, stem cell research and divorce. Homosexuality is condemned.

Harper’s strain of evangelical Christianity also believes that those who are not born-again are lost, and will not get into heaven.

The house of worship Harper attends in Calgary is RockPointe, a mega-church with a coffee bar, a soft-rock band and a stage instead of a pulpit. Pastors stroll around like talk show hosts. Jesus Christ is the way to salvation. Universal daycare is anathema. It’s part of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, which claims about 14,000 congregations worldwide, with about 20 per cent of its members in North America.

As Poilievre embraced the populist right-wing politics of the convoy crowd, he signalled as well to Harper’s theocon base. It was shrewd given the former PM’s role in a party Poilievre hoped to lead, because while Harper may have been out of elected politics, he was still at the power centre of the Conservative party.

The two men seemed aligned in the lessons they took from Trump’s coalition of the angry. Harper dismissed the dangers of opting for a non-stop assault of the Trudeau government, without explaining to Canadians how the Conservatives would run the country. In a recent talk, Harper defended all-out populism, declaring that Poilievre’s job as Opposition leader was to hold the government to account, rather than outlining his own policies.

An example of how Harper and Poilievre are in synch can be seen in manoeuvrings in the riding of Calgary Heritage — which happens to be Harper’s old seat. In October 2022, MP Bob Benzen announced that he was stepping down there. Shuvaloy Majumdar, a former Conservative intern, who worked for the former PM’s international consulting firm Harper & Associates, began to test the waters for a run for the nomination, his website vowing, among other things, to “fight back against woke censorship.”

On March 3, 2023 Majumdar was elected as the next Conservative candidate for Calgary Heritage. He has been a friend of Poilievre since their time at the University of Calgary together.

Majumdar, a virtual lock to win the highly conservative riding, will have interesting shoes to fill. Benzen openly supported the Freedom Convoy protest and publicly went after then-party leader Erin O’Toole for not doing the same. This despite the fact that he had supported O’Toole in two previous leadership elections. Benzen wrote a pair of open letters, one in late January 2022 and another in early February, to caucus colleagues, urging the leadership review of O’Toole. He said O’Toole staying on as leader would create “an unrepairable split in the party.”

But that split was proving a boon to Harper’s favourite political son. Among the Confederate and Gadsten flags, swastikas and “Fuck Trudeau” signs at the Ottawa protest was a professionally printed banner on the cab of a truck: “Pierre Poilievre for Prime Minister.” NDP MP Charlie Angus told CTV news, “What I find really surprising is the same Conservative MPs who are promoting the convoys against Mr. Trudeau, seem to have played a role in taking down Mr. O’Toole.”

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Convoy supporters march in Ottawa on April 30, 2022. The city’s blockade three months earlier had Trudeau’s national security advisor wondering, ‘We have seen these kinds of uprisings in democracies around the world. What does it mean? What can we do? What should we do?’ Photo by Patrick Doyle via the Canadian Press.

Even stranger, “Fuck Trudeau” flags even turned up in the U.S. In fact, one decorated the house of a local man in Wisconsin, who had attended the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington. He didn’t see anything wrong with the deadly Capitol attack. The author of an article in Vanity Fair knocked on doors in Wisconsin that had alt-right symbols displayed on their properties: Trump 2024 flags, Confederate flags, the yellow Gadsden flag, Fuck Biden placards, a coffin.

The author stopped to take a photo of the Trudeau flag. The owner offered to give him a second flag, still wrapped in plastic. “He’d bought a twofer in solidarity with his Canadian friends.” He was head of a local militia, and suspected there would be a civil war along the lines of an urban-rural divide. Inside the man’s house, serious guns were laid out on the table. The flag owner viewed himself as “a man of god.”

No wonder Trump was hawking T-shirts at his recent campaign stop in Waco, Texas, emblazoned with the words: “God, guns and Trump.”

When Pierre Poilievre shared selfies and doughnuts with blockaders of downtown Ottawa, it seemed a little shocking at first. The CPC was, after all, the self-styled party of law and order. Another candidate for the Conservative leadership, former Quebec premier Jean Charest, declared that Poilievre had disqualified himself from the race by openly supporting lawbreakers.

But it was a deliberate move, calculated to reach Poilievre’s targeted audience with maximum coverage. Suddenly, the media was paying attention to an MP previously known mainly for his combativeness in Parliament and dubious support of cryptocurrencies. And for being the minister of democratic reform under Harper who had produced the laughably named Fair Elections Act.

It pays to recall the legislation’s genesis. At the height of the robocalls scandal in March 2012, the Conservatives had promised reform of how election fraud would be investigated and prosecuted in the future. The bill was to have been tabled in April 2013, but was withdrawn after being presented to the Conservative caucus in a closed door meeting. It was rumoured to be so unfair that even the Conservative caucus balked at it and sent the bill back for a rewrite. On Feb. 2, 2014 the Conservatives finally announced they would introduce the Fair Elections Act, Bill C-23.

Although Poilievre repeatedly tweeted that the act promised “sharper teeth, longer reach and a freer hand” to investigate fraud, it was quickly dubbed the “Unfair Elections Act.” Instead of gaining new powers, Canada’s then-chief electoral officer had his authority seriously diminished. Mark Mayrand could not even issue a warning to the public if a crime like robocalls happened again.

Under Harper as PM, here was the party taking its cue from Republicans in the United States. Accordingly, the CPC tried to make voter suppression more palatable by dressing it up as an anti-voting fraud measure. Voting fraud was almost non-existent in both countries, but that didn’t deter conservative politicians looking for ways to reduce voter turnout in particular demographics that tended to vote against them. Nor of course did it stop Donald Trump from insisting that the 2020 election had been stolen by voter fraud, perpetrated of course by the Democrats. He is still fundraising on the bogus claim in his third run for president.

Even former Reform leader Preston Manning asked for changes to the Fair Elections Act. After four months of controversy, the bill finally passed on June 12, 2014, with some amendments. Notably Bill C-23 also increased campaign spending limits. A party flush with cash could now afford to hire professional companies to micro-target voters, instead of having to rely on volunteers during the writ period. They could also afford an intense pre-writ campaign.

THE RAGE FARMERS’ HARVEST

Nearly a decade after Bill C-23, it was Canada that America’s right looked towards with envy. Culture warring firebrands such as Marjorie Taylor Green, Jim Jordan and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis publicly applauded the “Freedom Convoy.”

Fox News mainstays Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham also broadcast their enthusiasm. Trump called Trudeau “a far left lunatic.” Elon Musk tweeted “Canadian truckers rule” and “if the Canadian government is suppressing peaceful protests, that’s where fascism lies.” Musk also tweeted and then deleted a meme comparing Trudeau to Hitler.

Musk has infected his latest acquisition with his own sketchy public comments on social and political matters. Researchers have found an unprecedented rise in hate speech on Twitter since he took command of the platform. From the outset of the pandemic, Musk had famously ranted against vaccine and other COVID mandates. Now, on the Twitter he owns, accounts associated with QAnon have verified status and Musk has fired staff who once laboured to keep falsehoods and hate off the site.

About the time Musk was equating Trudeau with Hitler to his then 63 million Twitter followers, the prime minister’s security and intelligence advisor was warned that among Ottawa’s occupiers might be extremists who could target the general public. They could be empowered perhaps by the “disorder” from the protests. They posed a quandary. Where is the line between legal and illegal protest?

In a closed-door meeting with government higher-ups weighing enforcement options, national security advisor Jody Thomas made notes with an eye to events south of the border. “It is something we have to consider as situations like this, perhaps, become more of the norm. What we are discussing is that the only measure can’t be violence of a nature of Jan. 6.”

She added, “We have seen these kinds of uprisings in democracies around the world. What does it mean? What can we do? What should we do?”

Good questions. Ports of entry in Ontario and Alberta were blocked at a cost of $56 million per day. And who exactly was backing the occupiers of Ottawa and the blockers of bridges, besides Pierre Poilievre and the CPC? When CBC’s Elizabeth Thompson analyzed GiveSendGo convoy donation documents, tabled by the commission of inquiry, an estimated 59 per cent of donations came from postal codes indicating the donors lived in the U.S. Thirty-five per cent of the donations came from donors with Canadian postal codes. The rest came from donors outside Canada or the U.S.

Canada’s National Observer posted a three-part series that showed Russian propaganda sites attacked Trudeau and the Canadian mainstream media during the “Freedom Convoy” protest that overall cost the economy close to $4 billion. Russia’s RT is a well-known propaganda outlet, and it sent correspondents to interview convoy organizers and supporters. The sympathetic coverage was in turn shared on social media by convoy supporters, making it “more legitimate” for local audiences.

But disinformation was also spread through proxy sites and social media messaging apps like Telegram, also used by grassroots supporters of the convoy. Some channels portrayed the Canadian government “as being overrun by Nazis, and claims that Canada supports Nazis in Ukraine.” Recall Russia justified its invasion of Ukraine by saying it was defeating Nazis.

Another echo chamber for the most extreme of the convoy crowd was Canada-based Global Research, which has been linked to Russian intelligence agencies in the past.

Fox News, now widely discredited for repeatedly lying to its audience to gain ratings, also spread propaganda about the convoy. From Feb. 7 to 17, 2022, Fox News devoted 16 hours of airtime to the occupation. The coverage was often highly critical of the Trudeau government. A tweet posted by a Fox News contributor falsely claimed that RCMP on horseback had trampled a woman to death in downtown Ottawa.

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Police move in to clear downtown Ottawa of protesters after weeks of demonstrations on Feb. 19, 2022. ‘Most Canadians did not see the occupiers as freedom fighters, but rather a scourge on wheels.’ Photo by Cole Burston via the Canadian Press.

Seven months after the last of the convoy departed Ottawa, Pierre Poilievre won his party’s leadership. But it would be two months more before he finally spoke to the general media and allowed reporters’ questions. His venue was a Greek deli in Vancouver. Poilievre’s intentional avoiding of mainstream media scrutiny again was straight out of the Republican playbook.

Poilievre disagreed with reporters that he was avoiding the media, telling them this was “not true” and “please correct your facts, you are wrong.” He said that he had done interviews with non-English “multicultural media” outlets. He posted a photo of a sit-down interview with Harjit Singh Gill in the studio of Sher E Punjab Radio in Richmond, B.C.

Poilievre has used his social media sites expertly. Like Harper before him, he is no fan of journalists. He views the mainstream press as “part of a broken political system run by elites,” preferring, he says, to speak directly to voters.

The Sher E Punjab AM 600 station posted a report of Poilievre’s interview on its website with this headline: “Pierre Poilievre Blames PM Trudeau for Inflation, Says ‘Everything Is Broken in the Country.’” The piece itself relayed Polievre’s talking points. Trudeau and the Liberals were responsible for high inflation, 35-year-olds forced to live in their parents’ basements and fuel prices that had gone up 100 per cent. There had also been a rise in drug abuse, crime and homelessness — all Trudeau’s fault.

Poilievre began retailing anecdotal stories of aggrieved and upset working men he met at airports and grocery stores. One of them was a cook who had tears in his eyes because Liberal policies had made it impossible for him to afford the foodstuffs for his own table that he prepared for others.

Funny, that. In its list of Donald Trump’s 15 worst lies, CNN included his series of “Tear Stories.” In these stories, working men averse to crying walked up to him with tears running down their cheeks as they shared their misery or gratitude for his politics. On one occasion, Trump claimed nine miners approached him, “tough guys,” and eight of them were crying.

Like Trump, Poilievre stressed all the troubles could be relieved if only he came to power. “We have to get the country back on track,” he proclaimed. ”It’s time for us to take back control of our lives in this country, to fix what is broken, and that’s what a Poilievre government would do.”

Poilievre also shamelessly tried to explain away his support for the illegal occupation. He told reporters that he stood by his support for “the peaceful, law-abiding” protesters who were part of the convoy. He said, “I think it’s possible to support the overall cause — a personal free choice in vaccination, and the overall cause of respecting the truckers’ ability to have to earn an income — while holding individually responsible anyone who behaved badly, broke laws, or blockaded key infrastructure. That was my position before, during and now.”

It is hard to imagine an emptier rationalization. Poilievre had nothing to say about a person’s right not to be infected. Nor did he mention the fact that the U.S. had regulations in place that prevented unvaccinated Canadian truckers from crossing the border. Only 10 to 15 per cent of truckers were unvaccinated. The Canadian border vaccination mandate was lifted for entry to Canada on Oct. 1, 2022, but the U.S. border mandate still remains in effect.

Poilievre’s themes are remarkably similar to Trump’s 2016 campaign. Everything is Trudeau’s fault. Personal anger is rage farmed, weaponized and directed at the PM. General fatigue with COVID measures and vaccinations has become a lightning rod for everything from clogged emergency rooms to the cost of a two-by-four.

And like Trump, Poilievre finds China a handy bogeyman. In parliamentary debate he declared Trudeau was working against the interests of Canada and covering up for China — essentially accusing the prime minister of being a traitor.

That’s what it looks like to double down in Canada on Trumpian populist tactics. Will it work here? The next federal election will tell. But there are already signs that the Conservative party’s lurch to the right, its demonizing of Justin Trudeau, and its support for the trucker convoy are far from a safe bet.

On the convoy, the numbers are clear. Most Canadians did not see the occupiers as freedom fighters, but rather a scourge on wheels. An Abacus poll found that 66 per cent of Canadians supported Ottawa’s use of the Emergency Measures Act to end the occupation.

A February 2022 Angus Reid poll found that 75 per cent of respondents wanted the truckers to go home. And 87 per cent believed that the protesters had had their chance to make their case and should leave. A full 90 per cent of Ottawa residents wanted protesters to call it a day. The CPC may have been in sync with Fox News, but according to the polling, not with Canadians.

Another data point illuminates Poilievre’s Christmastime video appearance in a snarled airport where he said, per usual, that everything seems broken in the country. While it is true that the past holiday season was torturous for travellers, the question is who or what was to blame? Poilievre claimed that since Ottawa is responsible for airports, the Liberal government was at fault. What did the non-profit Angus Reid Institute find? Sixty-eight percent of respondents blamed their travel woes on the weather.

At this juncture, Poilievre and the Conservatives find themselves in a situation eerily similar to the one that faced the GOP going into the 2022 midterms in the U.S. Biden looked vulnerable. Inflation, the shadow of recession, high-interest rates, an expensive proxy war in Ukraine and a president who at times came across as less than inspiring. The same factors that are dogging Trudeau.

Things looked so rosy for the Republicans before the midterms that house speaker to-be Kevin McCarthy predicted a 60-seat majority in the House of Representatives. Instead, the Democrats held the Senate, flipped two governors’ races while defeating high-profile election deniers, and lost the House of Representatives not by 60 seats but just nine. It was one of the best first-term, off-season election performances in U.S. history and it left Republicans stunned.

Former Republican speaker of the house Newt Gingrich famously crafted many of the scorched earth methods later employed by Trump. But his theory to explain why Republicans performed so poorly in the midterms wasn’t that their campaign talk had been too soft. To the contrary, he said the GOP’s over-the-top hostility to the Biden administration blinded it to Biden’s effectiveness. Or as he succinctly summed up the midterms when it came to the Democrats, “They were not repudiated.”

Will voters in this country reject hyper-partisan heat for want of problem solving substance? If they refuse to buy into Pierre Poilievre’s ranting blame game, Gingrich’s words could come back to haunt the Conservatives.

After all, this is not Texas or Florida. This is Canada.  [Tyee]

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