Dynamics of Federal Politics Poised for Change With Poilievre as Opposition Leader

Dynamics of Federal Politics Poised for Change With Poilievre as Opposition Leader
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre greet each other as MPs gather in the House of Commons to pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II, in Ottawa on Sept. 15, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Sean Kilpatrick)
Lee Harding
News Analysis

Less than a month into Pierre Poilievre’s leadership of the Conservative Party, the Liberals have introduced policy changes and new programs including an end to pandemic border restrictions and measures to help with the rising cost of living. And Poilievre is taking credit for some of them.

“After constant pressure from Conservatives & people across Canada, Trudeau Liberals finally back down on the disastrous ArriveCAN app, unscientific vaccine mandates & forced mask-wearing,” Poilievre said on social media on Sept. 26.

While the Liberals deny that their policies are driven by fear of new competition, the dynamics in the House of Commons seem to be already changing with Poilievre as Opposition leader. The longtime Ottawa-area Carleton MP is known for his fiery exchanges with the Liberals and his campaign focus on bread-and-butter issues at a time of economic uncertainty.

The initial House of Commons exchange between Poilievre and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sept. 22 received hundreds of thousands of views online. Poilievre asked whether Trudeau would cancel planned tax increases given challenges to the cost of living.

“The Leader of the Liberal Party has an opportunity to respect the fact that heating your home in January and February in Canada is not a luxury. And it does not make those Canadians polluters. They’re just trying to survive,” Poilievre said. “This from a prime minister who burned more jet fuel in one month than 20 average Canadians burn in an entire year. So will the Prime Minister ground the jet, park the hypocrisy, and axe the tax hikes?”

Trudeau replied by bringing up Poilievre’s support for “volatile cryptocurrencies” and saying it was misdirected advice, while adding that his government is “focused on direct and real help for Canadians, responding to the challenges they’re facing with meaningful measures.”

Trudeau asked Poilievre if he would support the government’s measures, and Poilievre replied that he would not support tax hikes. On Sept. 27, he followed up with a motion to eliminate the Liberal plan to increase the carbon tax.

Nelson Wiseman, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Toronto, says that while it’s still too early to see what Poilievre’s stamp on his party and federal politics will mean, there are already tangible changes.

“There’s no doubt that the party is different because you’ve got a leader now, whereas before you really didn’t. Candice Bergen was just a placeholder. And you’ve got to go back now a while when Erin O’ Toole was the leader, [and wasn’t yet] undermined by his own caucus and party,” Wiseman said.

“But there’s no doubt, Poilievre is a really formidable threat to the Liberals.”

It’s also an open question what an attention-getting Poilievre presence means for the other parties.

Marco Navarro-Genie, president of think tank Haultain Research Institute, says support for the Liberals is “peeling both ways” and the Conservatives will benefit even if some of that support goes to the NDP.

“Two scenarios. One, [it] ends up being nothing but a fierce battle between the Liberals and the Conservatives. I think that’s likely. And the second one is where the NDP picks up a good deal of the collapsed support for Trudeau, similar to when the NDP basically ate the lunch of the Liberals during the time Jack Layton rose in popularity.”

When it comes to the Bloc Québécois, Scott Edward Bennett, a political science professor at Carleton University, says Quebecers are currently occupied with their own provincial election so may not be paying much attention to the goings on at the federal level.

“Quebecers will recalculate their federal support once the provincial election is concluded. It is an old game in that part of the country,” he told The Epoch Times.

But there are other changes happening in Quebec that may have implications federally as well, says Navarro-Genie, pointing to the rise in support for the provincial Conservative Party in Quebec, an observation that Wiseman agrees with.

“Quebecers are savvy voters, and if they think that English Canada’s going to vote Conservative, many of them calculate we’re better off having someone at the cabinet table than not,” Wiseman said.