Tom Mulcair: The Trump side to Poilievre

This Conservative leadership race is turning out to be a lot more fun than those won by Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole. The “final six” candidates have now been determined and the three debates that are to be held this month will be crucial in deciding the outcome.

One of the fascinating aspects of the current race has been its pace. It’s been unrelenting and the average voter can’t help but notice that there are actually some bold ideas on display.

Pierre Poilievre doesn’t really, really believe that bitcoin can replace the Canadian dollar. But he does seem keen on using the governor of the Bank of Canada as a whipping boy. Tiff Macklem is a Trudeau appointee. What other proof do you need that he’s also responsible for Justin-flation?

Poilievre is a gleeful arsonist throwing Molotov cocktails at heaps of dry ideas and can’t be bothered waiting around to see the result. While his adversaries try to reply to his last one, he’s moved on.

Say what you will about Poilievre, he’s put together a campaign team that shows that he has the eye of a good manager. They’ve instilled discipline in his messaging that has remained short and punchy. He won’t give interviews. Why would he give them that chance? He’s the frontrunner.

AFFORDABILITY AS A THEME

Poilievre is riding a large white horse made of "freedom," resentment and baloney. It’s a sight to see, but watch out for the droppings.

Polling showing that young Liberals and NDPers are supporting Poilievre must be giving those parties fits. “Affordability”, as a theme, was once the bailiwick of the NDP. Since his first election as Liberal leader, in 2015, Trudeau has been promising ad-nauseam to help the “middle-class and those working hard to join the middle-class”. Poilievre has stolen that theme from right under his nose.

Millennials know that they’re the first generation of Canadians to have less than their parents or grandparents. Poilievre’s got that figured out.

These are young people who care a great deal about climate change and social justice. They’re very progressive on issues such as diversity and gender. They know which side they’re on. But they don’t see anyone on their side economically. Poilievre has them at least listening, for now.

The environmental movement, demoralized by the spectacular sellout by one-time superhero Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault, is an unexpected boon for Poilievre. How can he be worse? Who’s going to lecture him on his promise to build even more pipelines?

Jean Charest has had to swallow himself whole to try to keep up. The carbon tax he brought in (and bragged about) while Premier of Quebec is off the table because…his focus groups, and Polievre’s success, have told him that it’s now a bad idea.

Poilievre stands in front of a crumbling hovel, laments its ridiculously high price and hints that gatekeepers (his favourite word for government authorities and the media) are responsible for a lack of affordable housing. It goes viral and his younger audience senses he gets it.

We’re supposed to just forget that the federal government doesn’t have a word to say about agricultural land reserves around big cities in B.C. or Quebec. Poilievre sounds riled up and that, for now, seems to be enough.

He masters the fine art of saying one thing and its opposite. On Quebec’s discriminatory Bill 21, he says he doesn’t like it but is careful not to provide a clip saying that he’d challenge it in court.

He recently recruited Quebec MP Pierre Paul-Hus to his campaign. In Paul-Hus’s telling of it, he was upset that Charest questioned Bill 21. Odd thing, then, that he’d support Poilievre. Once again, it doesn’t really matter. The clips were for a Quebec audience and the flagrant contradiction was swept under the rug.

A large number of Conservatives MPs oppose Bill 21. This will come to the fore during the debates because only Patrick Brown has consistently opposed that law, which openly discriminates against religious minorities in general and Muslim women in particular.

In those debates, there won’t be a lot of time for detail. Prepared lines, as usual, will take the place of substantive argument. Keep an eye on Charest, he’s quick in debate and very disciplined about preparation. This is his three-point jump shot at the buzzer. He’s trailing badly and he knows it so he’ll arrive with lots of ammo and fire at anything that moves.

Poilievre is no slouch when it comes to slagging other candidates. He called Brown a liar at the outset of the campaign. He won't be shy to trot out the very long list of ethical lapses of the Charest regime in Quebec City. Expect him to deride Charest’s Huawei whopper (yes, he was a lawyer for that major Chinese company but…he was working to get the two Michaels released).

Pierre Poilievre’s “freedom,” of course, famously includes backing truckers who made life hell for Ottawa residents. They also said they wouldn’t leave until the government resigned. So much for lecturing others on the principles of democracy.

When he was put in charge of electoral reform by Harper, his proposals would’ve made it more difficult for Canadians on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder to be able to vote. His track record in respecting rights of the less fortunate is weak. Like Trump, he couldn’t give a fig about the working class but he knows how to channel their anger.

There is a perception that with a name like Pierre, Poilievre must have some traction in La Belle Province. The reality is that he’s on a collision course with Francois Legault on issues such as Bill 21 and oil and gas pipelines.

Legault has said a hard “non” to the Énergie Saguenay LNG terminal and to any new pipeline on Quebec’s territory. He says he’s basing himself on “social acceptability” (read: political risk).

'THE TRUMP SIDE TO POILIEVRE'

Other candidates will probably take a stand against the Quebec claim that it can unilaterally amend the B.N.A. Act to reduce linguistic equality of English and French before the courts. Poilievre has no answer for this and will likely duck. It’s a livewire issue that requires a subtle, detailed understanding of language issues and the constitution.

That’s the type of case where the average Canadian might start to notice that Pierre doesn’t do subtle. In fact, he doesn’t do detailed either. That, more than the bluster, is the Trump side to Poilievre: a facile shrug of the shoulders and no substance to fall back on.

Charest’s business case to Conservatives is: if you hope to win an election, pick me. He’s experienced and worldly, after all. Exactly what the Harper faithful apparently don't want right now!

Poilievre’s pitch is: a pox on all of them and on all of their houses. I’ll burn them down and build new affordable housing in its place.

What a race.

Tom Mulcair was the leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada between 2012 and 2017.