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Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre speaks during a news conference on safety in hospitals in Vancouver, on May 14.ETHAN CAIRNS/The Canadian Press

Justin Trudeau gave a press conference this week about electric vehicles, but reporters took the opportunity after his remarks to ask the Prime Minister whatever they wanted.

My colleague Laura Stone stepped to the microphone.

“I want to ask you about leadership. Polls have you 20 points behind the Conservatives and it doesn’t seem to be getting better, despite your recent communications push from your budget,” she said.

“The public appears to have an overwhelmingly negative view of you personally, and you seem to have lost control of the conversation on some of the key issues that Canadians care about,” she continued. “I think the public might be looking at you and your position right now and thinking ‘For the good of the Liberal Party, why is he staying on?’”

The question was polite, relevant and brutal. Mr. Trudeau began with a dry “Thank you for your concern, Laura” that made the room chuckle, then he pivoted to the sort of upbeat, dandelion fluff non-answer that makes politics ridiculous.

His only concession to the point was to murmur that “the world is in a challenging place,” which is both his standard response to this query and a tragically hilarious way to euphemize the idea that everyone is sick of you.

And here’s the thing: Mr. Trudeau is asked all the time now why he doesn’t just get the hint and take a walk in the snow, or whatever weather conditions are outside. It’s basically a parlour game in Ottawa.

So it’s weird, then, that it’s Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre who keeps saying that the media is out to get him, that they ask questions ranging from hostile to corrupt, and that all of this is a conspiracy designed to kneecap his party and keep Mr. Trudeau afloat.

I mean, at the risk of being glib: Look at the polls. If this is a conspiracy, everyone involved sucks and should find a new hobby.

And yet Mr. Poilievre has spent the past two years energetically insisting that any journalist who asks him a spiky question is enacting some greasy partisan agenda. There are entire swaths of the media that he’s been training the public to see as #JustinJourno grifters.

Part of the reason, certainly, is social media and fundraising. The ultimate prize is for a clip of Mr. Poilievre taking on one of these declared enemies to go so viral that American, British and Australian conservatives can rub up against it like catnip, as with the apple-eating video.

But even a clip that doesn’t reach that level will energize Mr. Poilievre’s base and haul in the sort of fundraising that’s seen the Conservative Party mowing down the competition quarter after quarter.

Right after he won the leadership, Mr. Poilievre held a press conference in Ottawa and refused to take questions. A reporter stridently pushed back, and a fundraising e-mail soon followed.

“This is what we’re up against,” it read, arguing that the Liberals were no longer the only problem. “It’s the media, who are no longer interested in even pretending to be unbiased. They want us to lose.”

Last fall, a journalist asked him whether it was irresponsible that he’d incorrectly called a vehicle explosion at a border crossing a terrorist attack. The Conservative Leader tore into her, insisting that the government had said so in a news story – it hadn’t – and insulting her news organization repeatedly.

Other times, he attempts to shoo a reporter away from a question by interrupting to ask pedantic rhetorical questions over and over, or he publicly accuses them of being part of some Liberal cabal.

Mr. Poilievre enjoys a good rhetorical brawl, and he’s skilled at it. So he’s trying to accomplish something much more durable here than evading momentary scrutiny.

What he’s doing is insulating himself from any future unwelcome questions or scandals that might surface. And he’s teaching the receptive public to automatically distrust anyone critical of him. That means Mr. Poilievre doesn’t even have to be there to yell at some annoying reporter, because he’s already set the table for people to discount them.

Imagine what this looks like three years from now when – if current polls hold – Mr. Poilievre will be prime minister and perched atop a stout majority in the House of Commons.

Spending issues, policy choices, dumb programs, stinky e-mails, ugly behaviour from public officials – why, to poke at any of it is to be part of the conspiracy. To deny this, or to insist these are valid questions that the public deserves answers to? That’s what bought-and-paid-for stooges would say.

You might really like how Mr. Poilievre sees Canada’s problems and their solutions, and you might think what he brands as his common-sense approach is long overdue. Many people agree with you.

And talking about why his attacks on the media matter – to you as citizens more than to us as journalists, frankly – is a great way to sound like one of the adults in Peanuts, wah-wah-wahing about boring, snotty things like “democracy” and “undermining of institutions.” I know, I can hear it happening to me right now. And Mr. Poilievre knows it, too.

But think of the worst scandal you’ve ever heard of. The cover-up that made your blood boil or that hurt someone or something you care deeply about – the thing so gross or corrupt that you want to spit on the sidewalk every time you think about it.

Right now, you might very much like the guy who’s got his fists cocked for this media fight.

But every outrage that matters – every nasty thing you will some day want or need to know about – started out as a question someone didn’t want to answer.

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