Skip to main content
opinion

People walk past a truck bearing a flag calling for Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre to become Prime Minister during convoy protests in Ottawa on Feb. 16.Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

This week’s midterm elections in the United States offer a stark warning for Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre. If an election turns into a contest between Team Normal and Team Crazy, the results for Team Crazy are bound to disappoint.

Congressman Peter Meijer used those terms when analyzing Tuesday’s elections. Mr. Meijer is a Michigan Republican who voted in the House of Representatives to impeach former President Donald Trump after rioters stormed Congress on Jan. 6, 2021. He lost in the primary to a Trumpian candidate who the Democrats defeated on Tuesday.

“This was no way, shape or form a resounding victory for Democrats so much as just a horrific thumping for House Republican candidates who thought that base turnout was the only thing that matters,” Mr. Meijer told The New York Times.

Democratic President Joe Biden is unpopular, inflation is running rampant, voters are worried about rising crime. Even in better times, the party of the president typically suffers in the midterms.

But the Republicans will be lucky to eke out majorities in the House and Senate. Even Mr. Trump called the results “somewhat disappointing.” He now faces a serious challenge for the presidential nomination from triumphantly re-elected Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

The Republicans did poorly because many candidates endorsed by Mr. Trump lacked experience or qualifications, and often embraced the former president’s nonsense about the 2020 election being stolen from him.

Mr. Poilievre is no Donald Trump – far from it. He supports high levels of immigration and a woman’s right to choose. (Anger at a Supreme Court ruling that took away the constitutional right to an abortion helped fuel anti-Republican turnout on Tuesday.)

The Conservative Leader is a smart and experienced politician who has galvanized the party’s base, posing the greatest threat to Justin Trudeau’s Liberals since their majority-government win in 2015.

But he continues to flirt with the crazies, something the Liberals will use against him in the next election. And the more ammunition he provides them, the more they will use.

He supports the protesters who descended on Ottawa last winter. Those protesters considered vaccine mandates an intolerable assault on their freedom rather than a vitally important measure to fight COVID-19, one that saved thousands of lives.

A public inquiry is examining whether the Liberals were justified in imposing the Emergencies Act to end the occupation of Ottawa. The testimony has brought back painful memories of endless horn honking, truck-lined streets and general misbehaviour by protesters.

“I support those peaceful and law-abiding protesters who demonstrated for their livelihoods and liberties, while condemning any individual who broke laws, behaved badly, or blockaded infrastructure,” Mr. Poilievre told reporters at a press conference in Vancouver on Wednesday, the first proper media availability he has held since becoming leader in September.

He makes no apology for rarely taking questions from the press.

“The press gallery believes it should dominate the political discourse,” Mr. Poilievre said. “I believe we have a big country, with people who are not necessarily part of the press gallery.” Mr. Poilievre’s demonization of the media accords with Republicans who do the same.

Like the Democrats in Washington, the Liberals in Ottawa face serious headwinds. Efforts by the federal government to support those hit hardest by rising inflation and interest rates are of little help to suburban middle-class families who help swing the outcome of elections and who are struggling with rising mortgage rates and food costs.

Mr. Poilievre is delivering a strong message: Cut federal spending and red tape, balance the books, fight inflation, get interest rates back down, develop resources.

If the next election is about the Liberal record and Conservative priorities, the Conservatives should do well, just as the Republicans should have dominated the midterms. But if the Liberals are able to successfully portray the Conservatives as wild-eyed ideologues and conspiracy theorists, watch out.

The Liberals always seek to demonize the Conservatives during election campaigns, accusing them of being anti-science, anti-abortion and pro-guns. When confronting Mr. Poilievre in the next election, expect them to double down.

If the Grits can make the election about Team Normal versus Team Crazy, voters will choose Team Normal. In his actions and words in the months ahead, Mr. Poilievre really should try to make it harder, not easier, for the Liberals to make that case.