Pierre Poilievre is taking the Conservative Party of Canada leadership race by storm. His rallies in Western Canada have drawn thousands of excited supporters and are making headlines across the country. We never saw this sort of energy in the last two Conservative leadership races when Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole drifted relatively quietly into the top role in the party.
Poilievre’s campaign is shaking up more than just his competitors for the leadership. Some media members and other prominent supporters of the Canadian establishment are very upset with the trajectory of his campaign, and they have moved straight into the usual accusations of racism and extremism—despite there being no evidence of either being displayed at any Poilievre events.
The president of a polling company sounded outright unhinged in a series of tweets where he referred to Poilievre organizers Jeff Ballingall and Jenni Byrne as “Nazis” supported by “racist [expletive],” along with saying he would be “coming for you.” It’s going to be rather hard to take future polling results seriously from that firm in light of that outburst. Poilievre’s ascendancy clearly frightens him so he lashed out in the tried and true progressive fashion.
Pierre Poilievre is indeed a populist but that is only a negative thing if you are deeply invested in the status quo. Populist movements have had some negative outcomes historically, but they have also had some very positive outcomes. The women’s suffrage movement and the North American emancipation of slavery both were the results of populist movements challenging the establishment.
Poilievre is engaging a broad spectrum of Canadians with his campaign challenging the establishment as he discusses things such as embracing digital currencies and defunding the CBC. He has successfully tapped into a large segment of Canadians dissatisfied with the status quo, and his campaign is quickly turning into a juggernaut.
It is telling that opponents of Poilievre aren’t trying to attack him on his policies. They have moved directly into the tired and frankly offensive tropes of racism and extremism accusations as they try to drive supporters away from his movement. They just don’t know what else to do.
The panic on the part of the Canadian establishment with regard to Poilievre speaks volumes. Their attempt to label him and his growing number of supporters as extremists and racists is very likely to backfire. Those tactics are often successful in the late stages of a general election. Politicians smeared as racists are put on the defensive and can’t recover in time to regain the trust of concerned voters. We are likely years away from the next general election, and repeated exposure to Poilievre’s diverse and growing crowds at rallies along with his racially blended family will put the lie to accusations of racism. People are tired of the labelling, and it is losing its efficacy as it is overused.
Canadians are exhausted with angry division, and Poilivere is offering a form of unity.
If opponents to Poilievre want to counter his movement, they are going to have to do so through policy discussions. It's about time.