Chairman's Desk

Poilievre’s momentum is a result of strong leadership, not sinister ideology

If you asked those delegates in attendance, last weekend’s Conservative Party convention in Quebec City felt like a unifying — some would say crowning — moment for a party that has often struggled with unity.

Ask some other observers, and the event was a typical right-wing carnival defined by anti-woke vitriol and socially conservative undercurrents.

Much of the opposition and media chatter coming out of the convention has revolved around the resolutions the delegates passed, some touching on controversial matters such as trans issues, leading Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre’s critics to surmise that his “common sense” agenda is really a smokescreen for more sinister right-wing ideologies.

Yet Poilievre’s behaviour and comments at the convention, as well as his response to these motions, paint a different picture. When asked to comment, Poilievre replied he isn’t bound to implement any convention resolutions but merely take them under consideration.

And his rousing leader’s speech revealed far more about his priorities and what messages he thinks will win.

Tellingly, it didn’t mention woke, or trans — not even once.

And why would he? With the CPC enjoying its largest polling lead over the Liberals in a long time, this convention cemented the feeling that Poilievre has built a big tent movement by addressing the cost-of-living crisis middle- and working-class Canadians face everyday.

And if you wonder about the effectiveness of all of this, you need look no further than the reaction of the governing party. A wolf in sheep’s clothing, cried the Liberals. Poilievre’s “common sense” message is nothing more than a warmed-over version of Mike Harris’ “common sense revolution,” they warned.

Really? That’s all they’ve got? A reference to a government led by former premier Mike Harris? A successful, transformative two-term government from almost 30 years ago?

But while Poilievre and Harris differ greatly in many respects, coming out of last weekend I see many similarities, between Poilievre and Harris but not those voiced by the critics.

Just as Harris ousted a government that had grown out of touch with its electorate by promising to cut taxes, make sense of the welfare system and end unfair hiring quotas, so too is Poilievre leading a serious movement by taking a back-to-basics approach. Poilievre’s speech was all about improving lives for all Canadians including newcomers, lowering taxes, food prices, energy, and trade.

This leads to the second, somewhat subtle, similarity I see emerging: Poilievre’s acute sense of how far certain issues can be pushed and when best to push them.

Poilievre’s ability to acknowledge and respect the views of others, but not fully mire himself in the polarizing topics and intolerant debates of the so-called “culture war” is surely a result of his experience seeing other Conservative leaders knocked aside by such issues.

Poilievre is demonstrating an understanding that true leadership means sticking to what matters most to everyday Canadians.

As his speech demonstrated, he is clear-eyed about what that is. And it’s not the messy debates Liberals would love to drag him into. As the reaction and enthusiasm of Conservative members showed, despite the resolutions they overwhelmingly passed, they are just fine with the direction Poilievre is leading the party because for the first time in a long time, they have a real shot at both a majority government and the leader to deliver it.

Down the road, Poilievre will have to define more clearly what he truly believes to be “common sense” on the sticky topics and social issues clearly important to large parts of his base.

Still, for now, all he needs to do is reiterate that his economic plan centred on tackling the housing and affordability crisis towers over the tired policies of this tired government.

Funny, it seems that common sense may just equal electoral success after all.

This article first appeared in The Toronto Star on September 18, 2023.

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