Marking 20 years
of bold journalism,
reader supported.
Federal Politics

Please Advise! Is Poilievre’s Cool Factor Climbing?

Pierre swapped spectacles for shades, suits for tight T’s. Is Canada swooning?

Steve Burgess 28 Aug 2023The Tyee

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,

Pierre Poilievre has undergone a bit of a makeover. He has taken off his glasses and doffed the white-shirt-and-tie in favour of T-shirts. It seems to go hand-in-hand with the new ad campaign portraying him as a family man.

Is this smart politics, Dr. Steve?


Pierre Cardin

Dear PC,

Define yourself before your opponent defines you — it's a cardinal rule of politics, for good reason. Defining is a hell of a lot easier than redefining. Once the public gets a sense of who you are it can be like a handprint in cement. Altering that initial impression is tough. So is Poilievre's print fixed and dried? Is it too late for a wet-cement reset?

Poilievre has been in Parliament since 2004 and Conservative leader since 2022. He is not exactly Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street: “You're going out a youngster but you're coming back a star!” One might assume Poilievre's image must be rock-hard by now, an adamantine cast of a petty, caustic political knife-fighter with a fondness for fringe views and the fringey folk who espouse them.

Yet the next federal campaign will be Poilievre's first as Opposition leader. The truth is most Canadians do not pay a whole lot of attention in political off-years (or during campaigns, for that matter). There might still be time for Petty Pete to recast himself as Personable Pierre.

If Poilievre wants a real makeover though, there's an ideal way to do it — just get himself booked at Atlanta's Fulton County Jail. When Donald Trump finally got his mug shot last Thursday, he was allowed to self-report his height and weight. The results were spectacular. Trump listed himself as six feet, three inches tall, and 215 pounds. Forget Ozempic, forget SlimFast — this is the greatest weight-loss program of all time. It was quickly pointed out online that Trump's fantasy stats gave him the same height and weight as, among others, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. If so, that's scary news for Jackson. He'd better hit the gym.

Poilievre probably doesn't want the kind of makeover that includes a mug shot. Former B.C. premier Gordon Campbell got both, albeit years apart. Back in the 1996 campaign the BC Liberal leader pulled out a guitar and remade himself into Guitar Gord, the Singing Suit. The involuntary police portrait followed in 2003 when he was arrested in Hawaii for a DUI.

From Campbell to Trump is a story in itself — the evolution of the political mug shot. Campbell wore a rather goofy grin in a couple of those Hawaiian souvenir snaps. Say what you like about the former BC premier, but he clearly hadn't been practicing his mug shot face in the mirror. Trump on the other hand had obviously been brushing up on Dirty Harry/Rambo/Robocop impressions in preparation for his big photoshoot. One wonders if there is a contact sheet full of outtakes from whatever Yousuf Karsh wannabee was operating the Fulton County camera. Trump is attempting to transform the mug shot from a “before” picture to an “after.”

As for Poilievre's remake, it is taking a more traditional route, including an ad campaign portraying him as a domestic softie. The point of the ads, at least one of which is narrated by his wife Anaida, is to paint a picture of Poilievre as a great family man, one who probably never accuses his own children of being “a hoity-toity chattering class of special interest groups.” Poilievre once told reporters, “Oh come on, I'm a very nice guy.” For the ads though, they needed to find someone else to say that. His wife seems to have agreed. We were not privy to the negotiations.

Can Poilievre's makeover work? Possibly. But the tricky part of the cosmetic business is always the person underneath.

Once again, a Trump comparison comes to mind. Trump's pre-trial release conditions in the Washington indictment dictate that he must not attack or intimidate witnesses or others involved in the case, on social media or elsewhere. This is like proclaiming: “The above-mentioned canine shall not bark at the doorbell, chase squirrels, or lick his own genitals.”

Poilievre too may be a prisoner of his own instincts. All the styling and contact lenses and soft tinkly piano soundtracks will be for naught if Poilievre starts in about vaccine tyranny or some such thing. His motto may well be the old Bill Clinton reminder, “It's the economy, stupid.” But meanwhile Pierre and his pals will be pushing a lot of juicy if stupid culture-war stuff. And when that doorbell rings Poilievre might just start barking, sending all the soft-and-cuddly image-making down the drain.

For now, the glasses have come off. Next, it might be the mask.  [Tyee]

Read more: Federal Politics

  • Share:

Get The Tyee's Daily Catch, our free daily newsletter.

Tyee Commenting Guidelines

Comments that violate guidelines risk being deleted, and violations may result in a temporary or permanent user ban. Maintain the spirit of good conversation to stay in the discussion and be patient with moderators. Comments are reviewed regularly but not in real time.


  • Be thoughtful about how your words may affect the communities you are addressing. Language matters
  • Keep comments under 250 words
  • Challenge arguments, not commenters
  • Flag trolls and guideline violations
  • Treat all with respect and curiosity, learn from differences of opinion
  • Verify facts, debunk rumours, point out logical fallacies
  • Add context and background
  • Note typos and reporting blind spots
  • Stay on topic

Do not:

  • Use sexist, classist, racist, homophobic or transphobic language
  • Ridicule, misgender, bully, threaten, name call, troll or wish harm on others or justify violence
  • Personally attack authors, contributors or members of the general public
  • Spread misinformation or perpetuate conspiracies
  • Libel, defame or publish falsehoods
  • Attempt to guess other commenters’ real-life identities
  • Post links without providing context

Most Popular

Most Commented

Most Emailed


The Barometer

Do You Agree with BC’s Decriminalization Rollback?

Take this week's poll