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Pierre Poilievre, contender for the leadership of the federal Conservative party, at a rally on Aug. 20 in Charlottetown, P.E.I.Jacques Boissinot/The Canadian Press

Pierre Poilievre ignores critics who condemn his links to conspiracy theorists because he understands a basic lesson of politics: Never take advice from people who want you to fail.

The candidate who is most likely to become the next leader of the Conservative Party has repeatedly come under attack for supporting protesters opposed to vaccine mandates. He vows no cabinet minister in his government will attend the World Economic Forum. He recently shook hands with the leader of an extremist right-wing group.

Mr. Poilievre’s critics complain about his willingness to flirt with the crazies. But they would hate his populist conservative message even if it didn’t come with a side of conspiracy theory. Nothing Mr. Poilievre could do or say would ever earn their praise, let alone their vote. He’s right to ignore them.

The Carleton MP first got into trouble when he voiced support for protesters who occupied downtown Ottawa last winter.

Then he joined with Leslyn Lewis, another leadership candidate, in questioning the motives of the World Economic Forum, which holds an annual gathering of business and political leaders in Davos, Switzerland. “My ministers in my government will be banned from participating in the World Economic Forum,” Mr. Poilievre announced in May. It used to be the lunatic left that ranted against the WEF. Now it’s the lunatic right. Either way, Mr. Poilievre is happy to play along.

More recently, he came under fire after a photograph was released showing him shaking hands with Jeremy MacKenzie, leader of Diagolon, an extreme right-wing group.

“It’s long past time for @PierrePoilievre to loudly and clearly tell Mackenzie, Diagolon and their supporters they are not welcome,” leadership rival Jean Charest tweeted. “Some votes should not be courted.”

In typical fashion, the Poilievre campaign issued no apology and instead counterattacked, tweeting about the $133,000 contract given by the federal government to an organization with a senior consultant who is accused of tweeting antisemitic and other racist comments.

What do you think voters care more about: a proscription on ministers going to Davos, or tax dollars subsidizing blatant antisemitism? (On Monday, Diversity Minister Ahmed Hussen said the federal government had cut funding for the project.)

Mr. Poilievre and his campaign team get what many in my occupation don’t: The “normies,” as American political operatives call them, don’t live on Twitter or read newspaper columns such as this one.

But they are beside themselves over rising prices. And that’s what Mr. Poilievre focuses on relentlessly. He released another video about the issue on the weekend.

“There are single moms who are literally cutting back on their kids’ diets, putting water in their kids’ milk, because they can’t afford the 10 per cent year-over-year food inflation that you have imposed on them,” he tells Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the video. Simplistic, inaccurate and effective.

Another example: Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem urged employers not to boost workers’ wages – “Don’t plan on the current rate of inflation staying. Don’t build that into longer-term contracts. Don’t build that into wage contracts” – because inflation will eventually come down. Mr. Poilievre has vowed to fire Mr. Macklem. Whose side do you think wage earners are on?

On Twitter, Liberal political strategist David Herle warned of the urgent need for the Liberal government “to produce a powerful counter-narrative” to Mr. Poilievre’s message.

Some of the most insightful commentary on the Poilievre campaign has come from Liberals such as Mr. Herle, Gerald Butts, former principal secretary to Mr. Trudeau, and Scott Reid, who was an aide to former prime minister Paul Martin. They know a dangerous opponent when they see one.

Some in the media claim Mr. Poilievre flirts with right-wing extremists because he is one himself, a Canadian Donald Trump. Nonsense. Unlike the former U.S. president, Mr. Poilievre supports high levels of immigration and steers clear of social-conservative issues. He focuses almost exclusively on economic insecurity. His closest political counterpart is Ontario Premier Doug Ford.

You may care about Pierre Poilievre’s nonsensical opposition to the World Economic Forum. Most voters care more about the cost of bread, and Mr. Poilievre is laser-focused on the cost of bread. Which is why he will almost certainly become the leader of the Conservative Party and may one day be prime minister.

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