Canadian Conservatives poised to make Pierre Poilifri the leader against Trudeau

TORONTO – Recently hapless Canadian Conservatives, losers in three consecutive federal elections that exposed the divisions between their populist and more moderate factions, are preparing Saturday to elect a controversial 43-year-old with scorched earth style and social media savvy leader to take on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

All indications are that Pierre Poilifri has competition in the bag.

Alberta-born Calgary MP Drawing crowds standing only in a standing room—often unusual for drive-thru campaigns here—the grievance politics traded, vowed to fire the central bank governor, protested public health mandates, and vowed to make Canada “the freest country in the world.”

“Our institutions are killing an entire generation of working-class youth,” he said in June. “But the elite guards think the biggest problem is that I summon the order. They just want to protect themselves.”

His campaign says it has won more members than the entire Conservative Party in the two previous leadership races. In the second quarter of this year, it raised more money from donors than its leading opponents combined. He received endorsement from Stephen Harper, the last Canadian Prime Minister from the Conservative Party.

Bolivar’s main rival is former Quebec Prime Minister Jean Charest, 64, a former leader of the conservative Progressive Federalist Party. As a veteran politician, he styled himself as more moderate than Poilievre, able to expand the party’s big blue tent while keeping the various factions united.

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

“This time, it won’t be close…unless something strange or miraculous happens,” said Richard Johnston, professor emeritus of political science at the University of British Columbia. “It would be an explosion.”

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Voting, which uses ranked ballot, is limited to the payment of Conservative Party members’ fees. 678,000 people qualified to vote in this year’s contest and nearly 418,000 ballots were accepted – the largest number for the election of a federal party leader in Canadian history.

The party announced Friday that it will review its leadership conference program to reflect the death this week of Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Canada and head of state.

A record number of members were also registered during the last Conservative Party leadership contest, in 2020. They chose Erin O’Toole, a veteran lawyer and military, 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 styled himself as a “true blue” conservative, not a “product of the Ottawa bubble”. He vowed to “take back Canada” and defend Canada’s history against “abolitionist culture and the radical left.” He belittled his main opponent, calling him a “lite liberal.”

But during last year’s federal election, O’Toole ditched the “take back Canada” talk and headed to the center. Critics charged that he was a shape-shifter who would say anything to be elected. Many Conservatives disliked O’Toole’s moderate platform and repercussions for key political positions.

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

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

“The tone was definitely depressing,” said Jonathan Malloy, a professor of political science at Carleton University in Ottawa. “All races would get muddled, but especially early in the race, the attacks were very passive. … Personal attacks were actually whether someone was a legitimate part of the party” and a reflection of the divisions between its factions.

charest He attacked Poilievre for embracing the so-called “caravan of freedom” that has shut down Ottawa and closed border crossings this year to demonstrate against public health measures, flirting with conspiracy theories about the World Economic Forum and promoting cryptocurrency as a way to “pull out” inflation.

Is Canada’s Conservative Party really on the path taken by American parties? asked Charest in 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 am making for you. I am not a phony American here.”

Right-wing populism is not new to Canada. It has a long history in the prairie. But it was “tougher persuasion” at the federal level, said Danielle Byland, director of the Institute for the Study of Canada at McGill University in Montreal, where voters have traditionally elected governments that are more moderate.

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For all of Polifri’s attack against the political establishment, politics was practically his only function.

As an undergraduate, he was a finalist in an essay competition called “As Prime Minister, I Will…”, advocating a two-term limit for federal lawmakers, among other pledges. He is now in his seventh term, having won his first election in 2004 to represent a constituency in suburban Ottawa.

Over the years, Poilievre developed a reputation for fierce partisanship with a knack for beating the skin of his opponents. Some criticized what they saw as a hard-line approach to taking no prisoners on the Internet.

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 wonderfully snotty.”

The His technique has sometimes landed him in hot water.

Once, he apologized for making an anti-parliamentary gesture in Parliament. This came shortly after he was discovered using non-parliamentary language.

In 2008, on the day Harper, as prime minister, apologized for the government’s role in the residential school system that separated Aboriginal children from their families, he questioned whether there was “a value in all this money” that Ottawa was paying survivors. I apologize later.

He became Minister of Federal Democratic Reform in 2013. In that position, he oversaw changes to Canada’s election laws that critics said would deny voters the right to vote and limit the independence of the Chief Election Officer. Since then, Trudeau has canceled several changes.

The next Tory leader will take over amid rising inflation, rising interest rates and concerns about the affordability of housing and groceries. By the next federal election, which is not expected until 2025, Trudeau’s liberals will be in power for a decade and voters can feel tired and open to change.

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

“Boilivri’s rhetoric is really powerful and something that could frighten some moderate voters,” Biland said, but “should not be underestimated.”

He said His latest focus on bread and butter issues — in one campaign video, sitting at dinner, the invisible Trudeau reciting how much bacon, coffee, and yes, bread and butter prices have gone up — could be a winner.

The new leader will also have to look to party unity.

There may be some rifts on the other side of the party [if] “Poilievre wins,” said Johnston. “We’ll see how he handles his caucus. He doesn’t seem to be inclined to kindness. He seems to be a painful winner.”

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