Eight months after Pierre Poilievre won the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, the evidence suggests he is on his way to becoming prime minister.
In politics, nothing is inevitable, and by the time of the next federal election, circumstances could have changed. But if an election were held today, Mr. Poilievre would probably be on his way to whatever residence substitutes for 24 Sussex Dr.
Nanos Research shows the Conservatives with a healthy lead over the Liberals. Nanos data also show more voters prefer Mr. Poilievre for prime minister than Justin Trudeau.
In the first quarter of this year, the party raised $8.3-million. The Liberals raised $3.6-million. Mr. Poilievre generates serious enthusiasm, and revenue, among committed Conservative supporters.
Beyond polls and fundraising, Mr. Poilievre has a lock on the issues that matter most to Canadians. He realized earlier than most that inflation threatened their economic security. He was speaking of “Justinflation” in the House of Commons as finance critic as far back as the autumn of 2021.
He identified “gatekeepers” as he calls them, as the guardians of privilege who keep doctors educated overseas from practising medicine in Canada, who keep new houses from being built or pipelines from getting to tidewater.
His law-and-order mantra resonates at a time when drug use, mental illness and random attacks on citizens and on police feel as though they are on the rise.
And he appears to grasp the vital importance of making the Conservative Party attractive to the immigrant suburban voters who decide elections. He spends a great deal of time in the 905, the band of ridings surrounding Toronto (named after its area code), meeting with members of racialized communities.
Mr. Poilievre confronts a Liberal government that appears, after more than seven years in power, sclerotic and uncertain, unable to frame a coherent response to Chinese interference, to clear immigration backlogs, or even to deliver a passport – one that no longer features pictures of Terry Fox or the Vimy Memorial – on time.
Mr. Poilievre does face obstacles that could defeat him, or cause him to defeat himself. Both he and the party are unpopular in Quebec. Everywhere in Canada, those who dislike him dislike him a lot, accusing the Conservative Leader of importing Trump-style populism.
Canadians generally fear, envy and then mildly mimic the endless convulsions of American political culture. Pierre Poilievre is no Donald Trump, but he does surf the same populist resentment toward progressive urban elites.
His flirtations with anti-vaxxers, his attacks on the media, his crusade against so-called woke ideology grate on people who might otherwise be attracted to his policies of lower taxes, balanced budgets, less government spending and deregulation.
But he is pro-choice, LGBTQ-supportive and he embraces Canada’s open-door immigration policy.
In 2008 he was forced to apologize after spouting anti-Indigenous nonsense. But today he is making serious efforts to forge an inclusive Indigenous policy that would see First Nations sharing more revenues generated from resource development.
Mr. Poilievre will have to do more than win the most seats in the next election. He will have to win, if not a majority, at least a plurality so large that the Liberals and NDP won’t be willing to risk popular wrath by combining to keep the Conservatives out of power. Will he be able to take his party that far?
He might be, and here’s why. Although Mr. Poilievre and former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper are very different people, they share one all-important quality: the will to power – the fierce, relentless, disciplined drive to win at all costs and with no holds barred.
That is why the caucus and the party have united behind Mr. Poilievre in a way they did not behind leaders Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole. They know how badly Mr. Poilievre wants to win and they believe he can.
Stephen Harper should have stepped aside rather than seek a fourth term in 2015, but he believed that Justin Trudeau would wreck the country and that only Mr. Harper could stop him. He was wrong on both counts.
Mr. Trudeau appears to feel the same about Mr. Poilievre. He may be wrong as well.