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Federal Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre shakes hands with a supporter during a meet and greet at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver on April 7.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

It’s not so much that Pierre Poilievre drew a crowd to an event in downtown Toronto. It’s that after the rally, hundreds stood in a long, swirling line for as long as an hour-and-a-half, waiting for a picture and a few words with the politician and his wife, Anaida.

So if you are still wondering: Yes, this is a thing. Mr. Poilievre has hit a nerve, and has some people responding in a rare way in Canadian politics: expending shoe leather to hear a politician speak.

That doesn’t mean Toronto is turning Tory blue under Mr. Poilievre’s spell, because even 1,000 people is a small slice of the Greater Toronto Area’s six million. It doesn’t even mean Mr. Poilievre, widely considered the front-runner in the Conservative leadership race, will win his own party’s top job, though it sure gives the impression he probably will.

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But getting people to go to a Canadian political event is a chore – let alone waiting hours in line for an opposition MP. There were 650 people in the Steam Whistle Roundhouse near the CN Tower, and 400 more in a nearby room. Perhaps 300 joined a long, winding line to meet “Pierre” for a picture. And waited.

There was a 45-year-old self-described life-long Liberal voter worried about inflation. There was couple of young women who had never done anything political before protesting against lockdowns. There were veteran Tories, committed poli-sci kids, but also a 45-year-old who usually voted NDP. There was a couple in their 20s who think they might never be able to buy a house.

A lot of the people in that picture line said they’d never been to a political rally before.

Mr. Poilievre’s already-honed stump speech, built from the slogan that he’s out to help people take back control of their lives, told listeners “big, bossy governments” have pushed normal life beyond the reach of ordinary folks.

He moved from pandemic exhaustion – a depressed 14-year-old girl, business owners forced to shut, and “the hard-working trucker who lost his job because of a personal medical decision” – to “economic freedoms” being curtailed by inflation.

There were lines about pipelines and defunding the CBC, but much more about people struggling to afford food or gas, and – this gets a reaction in Toronto – buy a home. He laid the blame for inflation on government ballooning deficits and the Bank of Canada “printing money” to pay for it. That allowed the “investor class” to bid up house prices beyond the reach of ordinary folks, he said.

Mr. Poilievre and his wife, Anaida, wave to supporters at an anti-carbon tax rally in Ottawa on March 31.PATRICK DOYLE/The Canadian Press

And he argued government internet-regulation bills to promote Canadian content or create a digital safety commissioner amount to online censorship.

The Toronto crowd isn’t all “freedom convoy” activists. Several, like Kevin Yang, 32, said vaccination should be encouraged, but no one should lose their job for being unvaccinated. Alex Paul, 26, sympathized with some of the convoy cause but not border blockades.

But there were as many folks in that line talking about perceived internet censorship. More talked about inflation and house prices – that normal life is being pushed out of reach.

Sam John, 26, said he moved back with his family in the city’s Scarborough neighbourhood, and Toronto rents are making it unaffordable to move out again. He has been following Mr. Poilievre on social media.

Kyle Morin, 45, said he always voted NDP in the past, but joined the Conservative Party “as of 15 minutes ago” to vote for Mr. Poilievre. “Everything he touches on, inflation, affordability, the ability of regular Canadians to be able to live – our current government just seems so out of touch with reality,” he said.

Oh, there is lots of disagreement about whether the Bank of Canada’s “money-printing” – buying huge amounts of government bonds in 2020 and 2021 – is much to blame for house-price increases. And, of course, the goal of that was to avert recession. Mr. Poilievre is right to complain that restrictive municipal permitting can slow the pace of house building, but his proposal to have federal bureaucrats judge local permits and cut recalcitrant cities off infrastructure funds is a mess.

But those arguments weren’t the issue for the crowd. It shouldn’t be a surprise that after two years of pandemic restrictions, even important ones, there are people who feel strongly that government has been telling them what to do, rather than listening to them.

Mr. Poilievre ties that into the idea that ordinary folks are being cut out of the normal life that should be within reach – and folks are coming out to hear it.

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