Monday, September 25, 2023

Looking for a people’s champ

With less then a month to go, the race to be leader of the Conserative Party of Canada already appears to be over, with Pierre Poilievre en route to becoming the next leader of the Party. With the endorsement of former prime minister Stephen Harper, it would be surprising if Poilievre hasn’t clinched the race.
While many Canadians both fear and dismiss Poilievre as a radical departure from mainstream politics due to his support of the Freedom Convoy, crypto currency and his threat to fire the head of the Bank of Canada, the fact that Harper feels he can safely endorse him suggests Poilievre is closer to the mainstream than they may think.
It may be that the political mainstream, for better and for worse, is becoming more and more radical, and the political right is the only one reflecting that shift.
Poilievre gestures towards populism through rallying against Canada’s absurd housing system and general rising cost of living, but his solutions are more or less right from the 1980s. Less regulation, lower taxes (fewer public services and less investment), more resource exploitation at the expense of the environment and manufacturing culture wars to fight. More or less the same policies that have caused many of the social, economic and environmental problems we face today, minus the outward support of global “free trade”.
All these policies contributed to the increase in wealth inequality, the decrease in social mobility and increasing distrust in institutions that Canada and other western countries have experienced in the last half century, which ironically have made it inevitable that the populism Poilievre is exploiting is increasingly defining our politics.
Merging that new populist energy with essentially the same old policies will probably be a winning formula, if Trump’s continuing relevance south of the border is any indication.
That many people perceive that their quality of life is decreasing is enough to make it so that rallying against those in charge, (“the gatekeepers” as Poilievre terms them) is highly effective.
That this populism will likely never see the light of day when it comes to actually making laws doesn’t matter to the many people who want to believe that someone will spite the elites who are living large while they see their lives getting harder.
Poilievre found where the energy is and is exploiting it to get through his political agenda. This is more or less why former Quebec premier Jean Charest’s strategy appears to be dead in the water. While policy-wise Charest and Poilievre would likely be hardly distinguishable, Charest represents an ethos that is essentially status quo. The status quo appeals to those who are comfortable, but completely repels those who aren’t.
The way that Poilievre, the quintessential professional politician who pushes for policies that historically only help the wealthy, has managed to brand himself as the champion of the people speaks to the growing resentment in our increasingly stratified society.
Lines between those who have homes and those who don’t, lines between those who can take long vacations and those who can’t, lines between people whose jobs are stable and those who are precarious – all these divides are real and will likely only get worse unless structural changes are made to how our society is organized.
Voters will increasingly want a people’s champion and the fact that Poilievre is good at playing one should concern anyone who isn’t a conservative. Given the historical back and forth between conservatives and liberals that our unrepresentative electoral system creates, his chances of becoming the next prime minister are very high.
While calling Poilievre a Canadian Trump is a lazy analysis, he’s definitely riding a similar wave. Unless the Liberals or the NDP start doing something to challenge that status quo by improving the average person’s life in the short-to-medium term, which universal pharmacare and dental care would do, or atleast change our electoral system so a party need can’t win absolute power with 35 per cent of the popular vote, there’s a very good chance we will see prime minister Poilievre after the next election.

Brett Thoms


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