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Pierre Poilievre takes part in the Conservative Party of Canada French-language leadership debate, in Laval, Que., on May 25, 2022.Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press

Pierre Poilievre is walking through Toronto’s Pearson airport – “this God-forsaken place” – blaming the congestion, delays and lineups on what he says are outdated pandemic restrictions that Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government refuses to lift.

“Friends, we have here a Prime Minister who is dividing our population for his own political gain,” the candidate for the Conservative leadership says in an online video of his remarks. “And now everyone is paying the price for those divisions.”

Scott Reid, who was a senior aide to former prime minister Paul Martin, pointed to the video as further proof of the threat Mr. Poilievre poses to the Liberal Party.

“If anyone doubts how much game this guy is packing, just check this out – a three minute, one-take tracking shot that comes with a metal-jacketed message,” he posted on Twitter.

“I’ll say it again and again. Start now on the job of beating him. He’s very very good.”

Mr. Poilievre should ignore critics who maintain he must abandon his angry populist message or face defeat in the next federal election, assuming he wins the leadership. Following that advice would cost him his most important political asset: his authenticity. That same authenticity helped Doug Ford win re-election on June 2.

The Ontario Premier won with the type of pragmatic, centrist platform to which many think Mr. Poilievre should pivot. But there’s more to it than that.

Mr. Ford understands suburban working-class and lower-middle-class voters. While his progressive opponents talked about subsidies and supports, he talked about lower gas taxes, expanding both subway lines and highways, protecting gig workers and making it easier for developers to build houses people can afford.

You want to understand why the working class increasingly votes for conservative parties? That’s why.

Even more important, suburban voters felt Mr. Ford understood their fears and insecurities. When he looks into the camera and says he gets it, they believe him.

What does he get? That we’re all exhausted after two years of pandemic trauma and want things to be normal again. That it can cost upwards of $200 or more to fill the tank of a Ford F-150 pickup truck, Canada’s best-selling vehicle. That it’s barbecue season, but inflation and shortages have priced steak out of reach. That people dread the thought of how much their mortgage payments are about to go up.

Pierre Poilievre doesn’t have to pivot to be more like Doug Ford. He already is like Doug Ford in the only way that matters: his ability to empathize with the economic insecurity of voters.

Talking heads obsess over Mr. Poilievre’s appeal to angry populists with crazy conspiracy theories: his promise to fire the governor of the Bank of Canada, his opposition to vaccine mandates, his criticism of the World Economic Forum.

But that’s not why he has sold what appears to be a record number of Conservative Party memberships. His message taps into more than the party’s populist base. It appeals to everyone who fears the increasing unpredictability of these times and who doesn’t see their fear reflected in the words and actions of politicians.

When asked why Canada’s airports were so clogged, Transport Minister Omar Alghabra blamed travellers who have forgotten how to pack.

“Taking out the laptops, taking out the fluids – all that adds 10 seconds here, 15 seconds there,” he told reporters last month.

That’s what had Mr. Poilievre making a video at the airport. That’s what’s driving his rising popularity. Mr. Alghabra was telling travellers that they were to blame for the lineups and delays. Mr. Poilievre is telling them they’re not to blame – that the blame lies with the politicians.

“The key to success is sincerity. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made,” George Burns liked to say. Mr. Poilievre’s critics think he’s faking it. But voters can see through such things. They believe Mr. Poilievre’s anger at out-of-touch elites and his empathy for those who fear things are spiralling out of control are real.

Empathy is the most important quality a politician can possess. Mr. Ford has it. It’s why he won two majority governments. And it’s why Mr. Poilievre has Scott Reid sounding the alarm.

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