Pierre Poilievre is conducting politics in a way never seen before in this country, using remarkably effective videos to talk to people on their smartphones about the things that worry them.
He has figured out and matched the public mood at a time when that mood is dark. Critics may scoff, but any politician opposing him should be very concerned.
The Conservative Leader’s latest message takes on homelessness, deteriorating cities and the opioid crisis.
“Do you ever feel like everything is broken in Canada?” he asks the viewer, speaking before a collection of tents in downtown Vancouver.
“In that tent city are people hopelessly addicted to drugs,” he says. These homeless addicts, he adds, “are the result of a failed experiment ... a deliberate policy by woke Liberal and NDP governments to provide taxpayer-funded drugs, to flood our streets with easy access to these poisons.”
A Conservative government would cut funding for the safe supply of drugs, he promises, and would focus instead on tighter border controls, tougher sentences for drug dealers, and expanded recovery and treatment programs.
“This has failed,” he says, pointing to the tents. “But there is hope that we can turn these cities around, and save the lives of our fellow citizens.”
Carolyn Bennett, the federal Minister for Mental Health and Addictions, swiftly condemned the Conservative video. “The evidence is clear on this,” she tweeted. “Safe supply saves lives. We cannot afford to return to damaging, unscientific ideology at the expense of people’s lives.”
The minister is right. Safe supply does save the lives of those at risk from overdoses or contaminated drugs. And tough-on-crime policies have never deterred drug use.
But policies to combat addiction don’t necessarily address the concerns of urban and suburban dwellers who wonder why crime is rising, and why there are tents in parks and homeless people on the streets.
“Everything is broken,” is a line Mr. Poilievre has used a lot recently, including in a speech to the House of Commons that he posted Monday on Youtube, where he cited rising inflation, increased mortgage costs, increasingly unaffordable food, rising debt.
He spoke of failing hospitals, millions of Canadians without family doctors, unavailable children’s medicine, immigration backlogs, deteriorating infrastructure, endless rules and regulations that make it feel like nothing is getting done.
It is fair to state that the Liberal government in Ottawa weathered the trauma of the pandemic reasonably well, and that all governments are struggling to cope with its aftermath.
But that’s not where people’s heads are at. Some are terrified of what’s going to happen when their mortgages come up for renewal. Some can’t afford lettuce. If they own small businesses they can’t find anyone who will work at what they can afford to pay. Emergency rooms are failing everywhere.
Mr. Poilievre is exploiting a growing sense of impatience at perceived social and economic dysfunction. And he’s doing it in a uniquely successful way: the short video, shot on the street, or in the airport, or at the diner, with the verbal glitches left in to increase the sense of honest communication.
There are few politicians who communicate as effectively as Pierre Poilievre today. Justin Trudeau in 2015 comes to mind. Then, the public was impatient after 10 years of dour Conservative government from Stephen Harper. They embraced the Liberal message of hope for a better, more equal, more inclusive, more environmentally responsible Canada.
Today, people are just trying to dodge everything that’s coming at them. Mr. Poilievre gets that.
He also gets that, in these times, the best way to communicate policy is not through a speech to the Empire Club, but on the street through YouTube.
Some of his policies are flawed. Shutting down safe supply sites will increase deaths from overdoses. Mr. Poilievre’s approach to the drug crisis will harm, not help, the most vulnerable.
But the most vulnerable don’t vote. Middle-class people living in suburbs – who may have a child who needs cold medicine or a mother who needs a new hip – do vote. And if they feel that nothing is working and government is to blame, then that is not good news for those governing.
Don’t be surprised if you hear Pierre Poilievre saying “everything is broken” a lot.