The latest polls have the Conservative Party in a very comfortable position indeed. If an election were held now, some have predicted that the Tories would take 179 seats, against the Liberals with 103, and the New Democratic Party 21, with Greens and Quebec parties making up the rest. It’s music to the ears of the party faithful who have just held their three-day convention in Quebec City. Other polls, of course, show slightly different numbers but all agree on three central issues. The Conservatives are in or are close to majority territory; Pierre Poilievre has managed to boost his appeal, especially among women and young people; and Justin Trudeau, very much the embodiment of the Liberal Party, is hemorrhaging support.
The next election will take place on or before October 20, 2025, and at this rate the Prime Minister will leave it as long as possible. His problem, however, is that what was once seen as invincible charm, political common sense, and an ability to speak to people across the political divide, is now derided and dismissed. He’s not actually doing an especially bad job, but the river of political and personal attraction has run very dry indeed.
He and his party managed to survive in the past because the Conservatives had the most extraordinary ability to select leaders who were bland and outclassed. Then came Poilievre, a professional politician who served as shadow finance minister between 2017 and 2022 and built a reputation as an aggressive, quick, and often merciless political operative. He’s relatively young at 44, and while he lacks Trudeau’s obvious good looks and charisma, he’s reworked his previously somewhat nerdy image, wears T-shirts a lot, and is often seen campaigning with his wife – from a working-class immigrant family, multilingual, and feisty.
It works. As has his taking his party to the right, at least in certain aspects. The attempt by truckers and their allies to occupy Ottawa in early 2022 had various causes, none of which were very credible and many based on conspiracy theories and extremism. The ostensible reasons were the various Covid restrictions and lockdowns, but there was something deeper going on. This is a rapidly changing country, and there are enough people who simply feel left behind, forgotten, and not part of the new conversation. True or not, perception is almost everything in politics and these voters see Poilievre as their man.
He plays that role skillfully, if not always with full enthusiasm. He’s known, for example, to be supportive of the LGBTQ community, has appointed gay MPs as his closest advisors, and made it clear that social conservatism wouldn’t be central to his government. But at the Quebec City convention, 69 percent of delegates voted that any Conservative government should prohibit "medicinal or surgical interventions" for gender-diverse and transgender children. That vote understandably outraged many progressive and mainstream commentators, but Poilievre has remained quiet on the subject and others like it.
It’s clever politics, in that while he and his inner-circle may not be on-side with all of the views of the grassroots, he knows that Canadian voters and Canadian columnists aren’t the same thing at all. Frankly, he likely assumes that the optics will not do his electoral chances any harm at all, and while Christian conservatives in the party would prefer him to be outspoken on “parental rights” and what they refer to as “traditional values”, silence is preferable to opposition, and anyone is preferable to Justin Trudeau.
He’s a pragmatic conservative, a populist who promises to provide jobs and homes without convincingly explaining how, and he’s certainly benefiting from a partial and regrettable Americanization of Canadian politics, the instability and fear resulting from the pandemic, and an increasing and regrettable divide between western Canada and Ontario, and urban and rural. He’s also worked hard at his French, and his base in Quebec, while still in need of expansion, is beginning to develop.
A great deal can happen in two years, and the Liberal Party is one of the most experienced and wily political machines in the democratic world. But their main weapon, Justin Trudeau, has become something of a hinderance. To underestimate him would be foolish, he’s surprised people in the past, but in Pierre Poilievre he may have encountered an opponent, and a set of circumstances, that slam the door on his political career. That could change this country profoundly, and the consequences are deeply troubling. Combine that with the possible victory of Donald Trump and the scenario is even worse.