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Federal Politics

Please Advise! How’s Pierre Poilievre Doing So Far?

Though he has the charisma of a threatened squirrel, the next federal election may be his to lose.

Steve Burgess 15 Sep

Steve Burgess writes about politics and culture for The Tyee. Read his previous articles.

[Editor’s note: Steve Burgess is an accredited spin doctor with a PhD in Centrifugal Rhetoric from the University of SASE, situated on the lovely campus of PO Box 7650, Cayman Islands. In this space he dispenses PR advice to politicians, the rich and famous, the troubled and well-heeled, the wealthy and gullible.]

Dear Dr. Steve,

After winning in a first-ballot landslide Pierre Poilievre is the new federal Conservative leader. How is it going for him so far?



Dear Imp,

It's been almost a week since Poilievre became leader. The Dr. Steve Decision Desk is ready to make the call: it's a debacle. A disaster. It's over. The race to replace Poilievre begins now.

Of course, Dr. Steve must leave himself some wiggle room here. Check back again on Monday.

They say a week is an eternity in politics (and on the battlefield too, as Ukraine has recently proven). So one must not be too hasty to make projections. From the perspective of this week's events the next federal election is as distant as the expansion of our sun into a red, planet-devouring giant (an event sure to be dismissed as a tree-hugging myth at the air-conditioned Conservative party convention of 5,000,002,022 CE). There are worlds upon worlds still to be revealed before we elect the next Parliament in 2025. All we can really do at this point is record the tone that has been set in Poilievre's early days. So far it's not so much a tone as an embarrassing noise in an elevator.

Here's some tone for you: at a Tuesday press event Poilievre managed to get into a pissing match with longtime Global News national reporter David Akin, referring to him repeatedly as “a Liberal heckler.” Poilievre, who initially planned not to allow questions at the conference, agreed to take a grand total of two questions from reporters after Akin’s “heckling.”*

Poilievre comes off as a guy who would start a first date by looking you over and recommending you order something low-fat. He's the kind of greeter who could bankrupt a Walmart. He's the kind of pitcher who loses 12-0 and blames the umpire. He's the kind of customer who makes Starbucks baristas compete to get his name as wrong as possible.

But then, Poilievre probably doesn't trust anybody capable of properly pronouncing Poilievre anyway (say his first name like the capital of South Dakota and he's likely to add you to his mailing list).

Poilievre aimed his leadership campaign in a hard-right direction and is now generally expected to pivot. He will call himself a man of the people, having previously sounded like a man of the People's Party. A post-convention statement released by CUPE referred to him as “a career politician who has been collecting a six-figure salary on the public’s dime since he was 24” and someone who was “spent every minute of his time in office fighting against fair wages, good pensions and a better life for working people.” But hey, Poilievre laps that stuff up. He's a Reaganesque, union-busting worker's champion. He'll promise a chicken in every pot, but no more gravy train. In the end it likely won't amount to beans.

Poilievre himself has promised there will be no pivot. “I am who I am,” he told an interviewer in July.

Of course that's what you would have to say, pre-pivot. Otherwise it's not a pivot, it's a squat. Poilievre may be planning to display some moves but so far he's only done the foxtrot.

If there is indeed a Poilievre two-step in the works, Quebec Conservative Alain Rayes is refusing to dance. The MP for Richmond-Arthabaska announced Tuesday he is leaving the caucus to sit as an Independent, unable to reconcile himself with the prospect of a Poilievre-led party.

Poilievre's response? According to Rayes, the new leader's office sent text messages to Conservatives in his riding urging them to demand Rayes' resignation from Parliament. Ah, there's nothing like a grassroots mob to bring folks together. You bring the torches and pitchforks, we'll bring the sandwiches.

Defeated candidate Jean Charest did express support for Poilievre, as one does. He also said he won't run as a Conservative candidate next election. That's the kind of support where you wish the bride and groom all the best but sadly are scheduled to have the flu on the wedding day.

Poilievre may have the charisma of a threatened squirrel, but the political playbook suggests that may not matter. By 2025, a decade of Justin Trudeau may lead to public fatigue with the ruling regime — fatigue that can be expected to dominate the next campaign, regardless of the proffered alternative. Something, anything new is what people crave. This will be Poilievre's election to lose. In that much, at least, Dr. Steve has faith in him.

* Story updated on Sept. 15 at 9:50 a.m. to note Poilievre agreed to take two questions following the press event.  [Tyee]

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