Populist peril when elected

Written by Brenda Schimke

Pierre Poilievre won the hearts and minds of the vast majority of conservative party members to become its new leader. Now it’s his turn to try and defeat the conservative party’s number one nemesis—a Trudeau, any Trudeau! Something his predecessors, Stephen Harper, Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole could not accomplish.

It should be a cake walk—Canadians seldom vote for a prime minister running in their fourth election. Poilievre’s sharp tongue and ‘rage farming’ was certainly embraced by conservatives, but will it resonate with ordinary Canadians?

Harper lost to Trudeau by losing control of the anti-immigrant sentiment within his party; Scheer lost because of his secrecy around his social conservative agenda; and O’Toole lost because he played a populous to win the leadership and then reverted to his conservative roots during the election campaign.

Pierre Poilievre will not disappoint his members in the same way. He’s not a social conservative, he won’t allow the anti-immigrant sentiment to emerge and he won’t change his stripes. His challenges will be different.

Throughout the pandemic, he’s pandered to conspiracy theorists who believe baseless suspicions about the World Economic Forum (orchestrated the pandemic to take control of the global economy), the Bank of Canada (its policies caused all our inflation); and the COVID-19 vaccines (the shot implants a microchip so the government can track your every move).

His solutions are steeped in rhetoric showing little understanding about the complexity of governance in a democracy or the impacts of a global economic system. Democracies and businesses require faith in institutions, not the promotion of misinformation or disinformation.

When Poilievre assures Canadians that he will never impose health restrictions again even if an out-of-control pandemic, he has given his nod to rural, young and healthy Canadians over those living in crowded urban areas, the elderly, the compromised and those working in the medical field.

Which in essence glorifies Darwin’s natural selection evolutionary theory that only the strong survive, and diminishes the Good Samaritan message in the Gospels which instruct us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves, including those we disagree with.

When Poilievre actively supports a group of people who take over residential and business neighbourhoods in downtown Ottawa or close economic traffic at Ontario and Alberta border crossings, he has endorsed setting aside not only the rights of urban dwellers to live in peace, but also the economic freedom of thousands to exchange goods and services in a free market.
When he walks with criminals, he flaunts law and order.

To attack the Bank of Canada is pure ignorance, but be assured if he pursues this course, it will have a chilling effect on all of our economic freedoms.

And that is the main concern of the small number of conservatives who voted for an alternate leadership candidate. Scott Aitchison summed their feelings up well in the last leadership debate, “Every time I hear a conservative talking about some conspiracy theory—there’s another group of swing voters in the greater Toronto area that just are not going to come our way.”

After the fist-pumping ends, conservative operatives need to remind themselves that ‘rage farming’ and winning leadership campaigns are easy – governance is much harder.

We need look no further than Boris Johnson in Great Britain and Jason Kenney—two men who forged ahead with their populist agendas even as a world-wide pandemic raged. Each arrived on the scene with great fanfare in 2019, both were booted out by their respective parties in 2022.

It’s very hard for populous leaders to move into governance. Johnson delivered Brexit but had no idea how to govern on those day-to-day issues that actually affect ordinary working Brits. Today, Britain’s inflation and economic troubles are far worse than any other first-world democracy.

Kenney got the power, and while focussing on his secretive populist agenda and his hate for Ottawa, he forgot the people he represented.

Both men were completely unprepared to govern when a crisis arrived.

On the other hand, populist Premier Doug Ford in Ontario changed his focus within six months after the pandemic started. He called conspiracy theories ‘nuts’, listened to and supported his public health experts and worked cooperatively with Trudeau to bring federal dollars into his province.

Doug Ford gets re-elected in a landslide victory. Johnson and Kenney are history.

With the power-base of the conservative party in Calgary, it will be interesting to see whether they can pivot away from Alberta ‘beefs’; understand a freedom given to one group, is a freedom taken from another; and whether they have something tangible to offer disenfranchised liberals and swing voters in other areas of the country.

Pierre Poilievre is popular with his base because he confidently sells simple solutions to complex problems. He must now convince the majority of Canadians to believe the same way.

Brenda Schimke
ECA Review

About the author

Brenda Schimke

Schimke is a Graduate with Distinction from the University of Alberta with a BCom degree. She has lived and worked in Alberta, BC and Ontario.