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Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, sits on a panel during the 2019 WEF at the King Hussein Convention Centre at the Dead Sea, Jordan, on April 6, 2019.KHALIL MAZRAAWI/AFP/Getty Images

After a lunchtime Pierre Poilievre rally in Fergus, Ont., a woman named Ava had a burning question: She wanted a journalist to ask how Mr. Poilievre can be trusted when a “member” of the World Economic Forum is co-chair of his campaign.

She was talking about John Baird, the former foreign affairs minister under Stephen Harper. Ava believes billionaires Bill Gates and George Soros are trying to take over the world, in league with a German octogenarian named Klaus Schwab, who founded the WEF more than 50 years ago.

Ava is not alone. The first person I spoke to at that Fergus rally a couple of weeks ago told me Prime Minister Justin Trudeau doesn’t really run the country – Mr. Schwab does.

Some Conservative MPs get asked regularly about the WEF. In February, Oshawa MP Colin Carrie asked in Question Period whether the WEF had infiltrated the Liberal government – creating more talk of plots when the query was cut off by a technical glitch.

Mr. Poilievre himself has winked at the conspiracy theory in tweets. He recently promised that if he becomes prime minister, his ministers won’t go to WEF confabs in Davos, Switzerland. Still, he faces baseless, repeated accusations.

On Twitter, the allegations centre on Mr. Baird being a “member” of WEF. (He isn’t, but more on that later.) Former NHL hockey player Theo Fleury, campaigning in April with “Freedom Convoy” organizer Joseph Bourgault in the latter’s short-lived leadership bid, claimed Mr. Poilievre has been chosen by “Klaus Schwab and the boys in Davos” as Mr. Trudeau’s successor.

The WEF conspiracy theory has effectively become an issue in the Conservative campaign. But no one can control it.

And as a development in Canadian politics, it could be a lot more important than a leadership race. A sizable group of Canadians has lost trust in – well, almost anyone.

That is not said to mock them. When I told Ava I didn’t believe in a plot to take over the world, she kindly promised to pray for me. Earnest people, with real lives, are worried.

Elizabeth Griffin Guenzer and her husband, John, drove from Kitchener to see Mr. Poilievre in Fergus – not to root for the candidate, but to judge if he could be trusted.

“I have read all about Klaus Schwab. The One World Order. What the plans are,” Ms. Guenzer said. “And I see politicians putting it all into place.”

She said they are not anti-vaxxers but believe COVID-19 vaccines are “experimental drugs;” being unvaccinated, she cannot fly to visit family in Newfoundland. She heard trucker-convoy protesters had bank accounts frozen and fears that plans to create a Digital ID (an Ontario provincial initiative) would link it to health record and bank accounts that could be seized or shut. In short, they felt controlled, and fear more of the same.

Some of those concerns are based on bits of fact twisted together, but that’s not new in Canadian politics. What’s new is that it appears a surprising number of people fit their concerns into belief in a global plot.

Some believe the WEF either created the pandemic or is using it to control people, through microchips in vaccines or stealth socialism controlled by a global cabal. In 2020, the WEF started promoting a “Great Reset,” arguing the postpandemic world could be somehow made greener or more equitable – and it has been cast by conspiracists as a plot for global control.

Mr. Trudeau adopted similar rhetoric about a reset, and building back better, which fuelled claims he was part of the conspiracy.

The WEF’s pull as a craftily marketed club for the powerful, where CEOs and government leaders meet, has long lent it to theories of cabals. It charges hefty fees to attend. It anoints up-and-comers as “Young Global Leaders” to attract them. And Mr. Schwab brags about it.

In an interview last year, he boasted that half of Canada’s cabinet were Young Global Leaders. Conspiracy theorists have apparently taken that to mean that Mr. Schwab controls ministers like minions.

But it was always the exclusive meetings, not the agenda, that was the attraction in Davos. Conservatives went, too, including Mr. Harper in 2010. Calgary Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner was named a Young Global Leader years ago – unsolicited – and gets accused of being part of a conspiracy.

Now that’s happening to Mr. Baird. He’s not a “member” of the WEF, but was also named a Young Global Leader years ago. As foreign minister, he went four times.

“I haven’t had any contact with them since 2015,” he said in an interview.

None of that should matter. Mr. Schwab isn’t controlling Mr. Trudeau – or Mr. Poilievre.

But it’s time for politicians who have flirted with it – both Mr. Poilievre and fellow leadership candidate Leslyn Lewis have tweeted about the Great Reset – to say there is no such cabal. The distrust is already no small thing.

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