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  • Title: Pierre Poilievre: A Political Life
  • Author: Andrew Lawton
  • Genre: Non-Fiction
  • Publisher: Sutherland House
  • Pages: 212

Andrew Lawton is a fan of Pierre Poilievre. The managing editor of True North, a conservative media site, has written a sympathetic (and then some) biography that will delight the Conservative Leader’s admirers and infuriate his detractors.

If you feel you need to better know the man who, according to the polls, is likely to be Canada’s next prime minister, you should read Lawton’s book. But be advised: You will be inhabiting a conservative/Conservative universe for the duration. Everything outside that universe Lawton dismisses or ignores.

The author was able to interview Poilievre’s family and friends, and he uses that access to good effect in telling story of the Calgary native’s early years.

Poilievre is the son of Jacqueline Farrell, who gave birth to him when she was a teenager, putting him up for adoption. His adoptive parents were Marlene and Donald Poilievre, two Calgary school teachers who later adopted another of Farrell’s sons, Pierre’s half-brother Patrick.

As a boy, Pierre embraced a variety of sports, becoming so dedicated to wrestling that Donald built a ring in the family’s front yard. But tendinitis ended that obsession, and the high-school student instead channelled his energies into politics, Marlene being an avid supporter of the Progressive Conservative Party.

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When Pierre was around 12, Marlene and Donald separated, with Donald coming out as gay shortly after. Pierre accepted the new arrangement, as well as his dad’s long-term partner. According to Lawton, two qualities defined Poilievre’s rapid ascent from student activist to elected politician. The first is an authentic and pugnacious conservatism.

As a teenager he read and embraced the writings of economist Milton Friedman, employing the monetarist’s theories in classroom debates, which annoyed his high-school teachers. At 17 he wrote a screed against Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government, which appeared in the Calgary Herald.

While a student in international relations at the University of Calgary, his entry in an essay competition praised “the freedom to earn a living and share the fruits of our labour with loved ones, the freedom to build personal prosperity through risk taking and a strong work ethic.” The essence of that essay has informed his speeches as MP, cabinet minister and Conservative leader.

The second quality is more ephemeral. “One of the recurring themes of Pierre Poilievre’s political life is good timing,” writes Lawton. “Whether it’s luck, calculation or some combination of the two, people can decide for themselves.”

At 14, he joined Preston Manning’s new populist Reform Party, just as it exploded onto the Canadian political scene. He attached himself to a rising young Calgary politician, Jason Kenney, and then to Stockwell Day, the first leader of the Canadian Alliance, successor to Reform.

He was working in Day’s office when Stephen Harper, who had successfully challenged Day for the party’s leadership, negotiated the merger of the Alliance with the Progressive Conservative Party. Against all expectations, Poilievre secured the nomination for Nepean-Carleton, winning the riding for the new Conservative Party of Canada in the 2004 election. He was 25.

His personal life as an adult was complex. He spent 12 years in a romantic partnership with Jenni Byrne, a fellow Reform and then Conservative organizer. They never lived together and never spoke of marriage, and after they broke up remained close friends, with Byrne orchestrating Poilievre’s 2022 leadership campaign.

In 2012, he met and fell in love with Anaida Galindo, a Hill staffer whose family had emigrated from Venezuela to Canada. They married in 2017 and have two children. Ana has become an essential part of Team Poilievre, sometimes introducing him at campaign events.

Lawton reports that before moving into Stornoway, the residence of the leader of the Official Opposition, Poilievre neither cooked nor cleaned around the house, but didn’t expect Ana to either. They got takeout and hired a housekeeper.

Since his days as a student activist, Poilievre has embraced a combative approach to politics, preferring to be always on the offensive and never hesitating to make his attacks personal and cutting. Lawton refers to Poilievre’s “habit of walking up to the line of acceptable behaviour and perhaps leaning over it a bit.” Some would consider that an understatement.

Poilievre’s greatest challenge – Lawton describes it as “a period of deep introspection” – came in the wake of the 2015 election. Not only did the Tories lose power, Poilievre came very close to losing his own seat. In the months that followed, he seemed adrift, talking about leaving politics and failing even to support his friend Andrew Scheer in the 2017 leadership race.

Nonetheless, Scheer made Poilievre finance critic, which gave him new energy and set him on the path to identifying overly lax monetary policy and chronic budget deficits as contributors to inflation, a message that many voters have embraced.

Many were surprised by Poilievre’s decision not to seek the leadership in 2020, citing family reasons. Lawton reports that Pierre and Ana were grappling with the discovery that their daughter Valentina is a special-needs child.

Authenticity is a rare and precious commodity in politics. Erin O’Toole appealed to social conservatives to win the Conservative leadership in 2020, then pivoted to a more centrist position, alienating his caucus and leaving voters confused and suspicious. Do not expect that of Poilievre.

As prime minister, “I think he probably will be similar to what Mike Harris was like as premier of Ontario from 1995 to 1999,” predicts Poilievre’s friend Adam Daifallah in the book.

The first term of Mike Harris’s Progressive Conservative government was tumultuous and transformative. Expect the same from a Poilievre administration.

Lawton writes in the clear, plain Anglo Saxon English that Poilievre champions and demands of those around him, eschewing Latinate verbiage.

There are mistakes in the book – Tom Flanagan, for example, was not in charge of the 2006 Conservative election campaign – but none that impair its integrity.

The author does not attempt to poke far beneath the surface of his subject’s philosophy or tactics, accepting the former as gospel and the latter as necessary. This will render the book out of bounds for many progressives and for those who champion the institutions and conventions of Laurentian Canada.

But then, as Poilievre wrote in an Ottawa Citizen opinion piece in 2006, he has never had much time for “the hoity-toity chattering class of special interest groups and lobbyists who are obsessed with portrait galleries and pleasing the National Capital Commission.”

He speaks, instead, for “middle-class families. Real people. They are the folks who work hard, pay their taxes and play by the rules.”

Lawton clearly agrees, which is why he has written a book that makes the best possible case for the man who may soon be prime minister.

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