The Conservative Party of Canada’s leadership race is on until September, but it’s already over. For months, Pierre Poilievre has led the pack, a clear front-runner in a contest that will shape the future of the party. Right now, that future looks to be a toxic, right-wing populist libertarian turn — a nasty turn we’ve seen before around the world.
Last week, fundraising numbers confirmed what anyone paying attention could have told you. Throughout April, May and June, Poilievre raised more donor money than all his competitors combined. That’s just over 4 million Canadian dollars (about $3.1 million). That’s it. That’s the ballgame. Call it.
In late July, former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper endorsed Poilievre. The nod wasn’t unexpected. It has long been assumed that Harper supported his former cabinet minister, just as it has long been known that Harper wasn’t the biggest fan of Poilievre’s principal rival, Jean Charest. The endorsement was a rubber stamp on top of a foregone conclusion. It made Poilievre the unity candidate — which is to say, it called for the ideological diversity of the party to be subsumed under Poilievre’s libertarian conservatism served with a dollop of populist pastiche. It’s Poilievre’s party now. That’s bad news for conservatives and the country.
Poilievre is a reckless politician. He supports the toxic convoy that occupied Ottawa in the winter, as we learned once more in June when he marched with James Topp. As Rachel Gilmore reported at the time for Global News, Topp appeared on “far-right figurehead Jeremy [MacKenzie’s] podcast.” MacKenzie, she noted, “was also a part of a controversial January YouTube broadcast, during which [he] claimed the so-called freedom convoy could ‘bring down the government’ as his co-hosts chimed that they ‘think we need to assemble to gallows on f—ing Parliament.’”
The front-runner is also fond of torqued attacks against the Bank of Canada, journalists, the World Economic Forum and anyone who might plausibly be defined as a “gatekeeper.” His anti-elite, anti-establishment bit belies the fact he’s a career politician and former cabinet minister. He’s establishment all the way down. He’s a phony loudmouth who has been walking the halls of Parliament since 2004, when he was in his 20s.
With all those years in Parliament, you’d think he’d know what he’s talking about, but he doesn’t. He has made the federal budget a crusade: shrinking the deficit and debt, railing against Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the Bank of Canada’s “money printing” and inflation, and supporting a batty policy to force his ministers to cut a dollar of spending for each new dollar they wish to spend, as if government finance and personal finance are the same thing. It turns out, contrary to Poilievre’s lazy, rehashed-Thatcherist fever dream, that Canada is in healthy and sustainable fiscal shape. Inflation is a problem, a serious one, but it’s not caused by what Poilievre thinks it is, and it won’t be solved by his unserious, debate-club ideas.
Poilievre will become leader of the Conservative Party, bringing with him a populist conservatism that ought to worry the country. It’s possible that as leader or, God forbid, prime minister, he will be moderated by the pressures and checks of the party and the country. Running for something is cheap and easy compared with winning and keeping the thing, as the last two leaders of the Conservative Party learned quickly. Poilievre as leader will have to manage a caucus of members of Parliament and senators. As prime minister, he would have to do the same, alongside a cabinet, departments and relationships with premiers and foreign states. Not to mention, naturally, the people who will expect him to deliver on promises of a better country — promises he simply lacks the capacity to keep. But we can’t count on Poilievre being moderated by external forces. We must assume the worst. He keeps telling us who he is. We should believe him.
While it’s too late to prevent Poilievre’s ascendancy to leader of the Conservative Party, it isn’t too late to resist him becoming prime minister. The Liberals, New Democrats and Greens ought to make it a priority to ensure he never forms a government. So should sensible Conservatives. Of course, the people of Canada must do the same. The problems Canada and the world face are far too great to leave to a right-wing, doctrinaire, stuffed-shirt politician of such little distinction, capacity or imagination.