Pierre Poilievre is likely to pivot to the political centre if he wins the Conservative leadership this fall, says former British Columbia premier Christy Clark.
“I think that most politicians, when they finish their leadership race, change a little bit,” said Ms. Clark, who led the BC Liberal Party – a coalition of federal Conservatives and federal Liberals. “He’s a smart guy. I don’t think there’s any exception to that.”
“If Mr. Poilievre wins, he’s going to have a choice to make about how he wants to speak to Canadians about the things we share in common,” she said in a Wednesday interview with The Globe and Mail.
Ms. Clark is set to talk about the moderate middle of Canadian politics as keynote speaker at an Aug. 11 gathering of supporters of Centre-Ice Conservatives, a group that says it’s committed to a centrist approach for the Conservative Party. She will be joined by panelists such as former Conservative senator Marjory LeBreton, who has expressed concerns about Mr. Poilievre’s lead in the polls, as well as his support of the self-described freedom convoy.
Formed in April, the group is aiming to ensure that centrist Conservatives are heard in the debate over the future of the party.
Ms. Clark, BC Liberal premier from 2011 until 2017, said Mr. Poilievre, widely considered the front-runner in the leadership race, will have to decide whether to pursue policies that unite Canadians.
Mr. Poilievre has been criticized for his commitment to fire the governor of the Bank of Canada, as part of an effort to counter inflation, and to challenge those he calls gatekeepers who he says are causing problems for Canadians.
During a recent interview with the Calgary Sun, Mr. Poilievre said he will be sticking to his approach if he becomes party leader when the results are announced on Sept. 10. “People know what to expect from me,” he told columnist Rick Bell. “You’ve known me long enough to know what to expect. There is no grand pivot. I am who I am.”
A member of Centre Ice’s advisory council is Tasha Kheiriddin, who is the co-chair of the leadership campaign of former Quebec premier Jean Charest.
However, Rick Peterson, the co-founder of Centre-Ice Conservatives, said the organization includes members who are supporting varied candidates in the leadership race.
In an interview, he said Ms. Clark was of interest as a speaker because she can offer lessons from a centrist perspective of leading a coalition of interests in a party that won elections. The BC Liberals governed the province from 2001 until 2017 under Gordon Campbell and Ms. Clark.
Mr. Peterson said centrist Conservative perspectives are going to be heard, but added, “Whether anyone who becomes leader acts on [them], I don’t know.”
He said that the Conservative Party has to appeal to centrist, mainstream Canadians who are in swing ridings and decide elections.
Ms. Clark supports Mr. Charest in the leadership race. “I think he would be a very, very good prime minister.” However, she said she won’t be using her speech next month to campaign for Mr. Charest. She declined to say whether she is a card-carrying federal Conservative.
“I’m really calling on the members of the Conservative Party and Canadians and Liberals to remember that productive, open dialogue is the basis of a democratic society,” she said. “We have to go back to a more civil dialogue in the country or we won’t have a country.”
Ms. Clark said she plans to use her speech to talk about how she sees federal politicians on all sides retrenching into extreme partisanship. “They barely talk to each other and they are focused on dividing Canadians, both the Liberals and the Conservatives.”
There are five candidates in the leadership race – the winner is to be announced on Sept. 10. They are Mr. Charest; Mr. Poilievre, an Ottawa-area MP; and two other Ontario MPs, Scott Aitchison and Leslyn Lewis. In addition, Roman Baber, a former Progressive Conservative member of the Ontario legislature, is running.
At a forum on Wednesday, Mr. Aitchison was asked about the place of moderation in Canadian politics.
The Parry Sound-Muskoka MP said that on his arrival in Ottawa in 2019, he was dismayed by the seeming lack of interest in focusing on real problems, and, instead, saw parties attacking each other, he told an event at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy on Wednesday. He denounced the “ridiculous theatre” of Question Period.
“It seems to me that too many members of Parliament are focused on getting great click results on their Twitter feeds as opposed to solving problems.”
He said there is an element of society that doesn’t trust institutions. “I think it’s important for Conservatives to not just fan the flames of that distrust, but to do what we have always done, make [the institutions] more transparent, make them more effective.”
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