Skip to main content
opinion

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre speaks in the House of Commons, in Ottawa, on Oct. 21.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Andrew Perez is a Toronto-based public affairs strategist, freelance writer, and political activist and commentator.

Pierre Poilievre’s first month as Conservative Party Leader has yielded decidedly mixed results for a party that overwhelmingly placed their confidence in his brash leadership style a little more than a month ago. While the neophyte leader came out of the gate firing on all cylinders after his Sept. 10 leadership victory, Mr. Poilievre’s first month on the job has not resembled anything close to a honeymoon.

Meanwhile, his opponents have worked to focus on and highlight his polarizing reputation as a partisan pit bull seemingly willing to placate right-wing, populist voters who engage in outlandish conspiracy theories, oppose COVID-19 mandates and often take stands against vaccines and other science.

But Mr. Poilievre still has an ace up his sleeve: his unconventional family background. If he’s willing, speaking openly about his family’s roots might enable him to soften his divisive, populist image, and to broaden support for the Conservatives among more diverse demographics traditionally hostile to the party.

Canadians saw a glimpse into his family’s unique makeup last month when Mr. Poilievre unexpectedly showed vulnerability in his victory speech, describing his family as “a complicated and mixed-up bunch … like our country.” It was an unusually authentic line from a party leader that drew both laughter and applause from Conservative members, and resonated with pundits across the political spectrum.

And indeed, Mr. Poilievre’s family narrative does not neatly align with the stereotype of a conventional conservative leader. He was given up by a teenage mother and was adopted by parents who are Fransaskois – the small linguistic minority of French speakers living in Saskatchewan, a province dominated by Anglophones. Interestingly, Mr. Poilievre’s adoptive parents were both public-school teachers, a group many Conservatives have long antagonized.

In his victory speech, Mr. Poilievre also openly referred to his father, Don, and his partner Ross – a not-so-subtle reference to the fact his adoptive father is openly gay. It’s an intriguing biographical detail, given that Mr. Poilievre opposed the same-sex marriage legislation introduced by Paul Martin’s Liberal government in the mid-2000s when he was a first-term MP. But two years ago, he called same-sex marriage “a success”; more recently, he appointed his party’s two openly gay MPs to key roles on his nine-member leadership team.

In 2018, Mr. Poilievre married Anaida Galindo, a Venezuelan immigrant whose family settled in Montreal upon arriving in Canada. Throughout his speech, Mr. Poilievre referenced his love for his wife and his appreciation for her modest immigrant roots. Revealingly, he also shared that he and his wife are raising their two young children to speak French and Spanish at home, noting that English would be their third language.

Mr. Poilievre’s family roots are no doubt similar to the millions of Canadians who hail from across this diverse country and from around the world. But what might make his family’s story appealing in the eyes of voters is its novelty for a conservative leader. As they get to know him better, many Canadians may find themselves surprised by Mr. Poilievre’s story, and his modern and humble family background could serve as an antidote to his most glaring flaws: a polarizing persona as a scorched-earth populist, and his blatant willingness to cater to fringe causes for political gain.

For example, the new Conservative Leader disdains government largesse, “gatekeepers” and powerful public-sector unions, yet his adoptive parents were public-school teachers. Similarly, while Mr. Poilievre worked to appeal to a large majority of disenfranchised white men during his campaign, the couple that raised him are part of a historically disenfranchised linguistic minority. And while Mr. Poilievre has extolled the virtues of using “simple Anglo-Saxon English words” to appeal to Canadians on the campaign trail – a phrase some have equated to a nativist dog whistle – he has also shared that he lives in a multilingual household.

While the twists and turns of Mr. Poilievre’s family history appear to often contradict the political ideology the career politician has clung to since his teenage years, that only humanizes him as a multidimensional individual.

“My parents taught me that it didn’t matter where I came from, but where I was going,” Mr. Poilievre said, in one of the most impactful lines from his leadership victory speech. “It didn’t matter who I knew, but what I could do. That is the hope I want my kids to inherit.”

That line landed with thunderous applause. If Mr. Poilievre is able to continue showcasing his vulnerable side, he’ll likely overcome the many challenges that lie ahead in his quest to become prime minister.