Pierre Poilievre’s populism is effective; here’s everything it gets wrong on purpose

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Pierre Poilievre is now the leader of the Canadian Progressive Conservative (CPC) party. Here’s how Poilievre has made use of a populism based on misleading working and middle class frustrations to garner support for his cause. 

According to an Ipsos poll, the Alberta-born politician was popular among over half of conservative voters before election results were called, making his new position as Leader of the Opposition following interim leader Candace Bergen, fairly predictable. Bergen stepped to the plate after Erin O’Toole was ousted by his caucus when the current Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, won a minority liberal government in last year’s snap election. 

So what’s it about Poilievre’s policy plans that makes him popular in the electorate?

Poilievre has one solution to all of Canada’s problems: the government is stopping Canadians from living in the freest country in the world. His campaign’s website reads like a libertarian manifesto. In fact, his mission statement rejects that he’s running a campaign: “this is not a campaign. This is a cause.” 

Poilievre has been appealing to the last 12 months of inflation which has resulted from global supply chain issues, the COVID-19 pandemic, corporate price gouging and a host of other factors to justify his attack against government overreach. He calls the past year’s hike in prices “Justin-flation,” a term which conveniently places all of the causes of inflation on government policy using Trudeau as a figurehead to take aim at. While I haven’t been impressed by Trudeau’s policy chops for the past few years, especially on the climate front, contrary to the beliefs of Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney — Alberta being Poilievre’s hometown and a place that has informed his policy efforts to a large extent — things like the carbon tax are not the reason Canadians have been seeing high prices at the gas pump. Notably, there’s a misconception that the proceeds of the Carbon Tax go to Ottawa when the money goes unilaterally to the jurisdiction of which it was collected.  

Recently, the Alberta government passed a gas tax holiday premised on the idea that it’s Ottawa causing the rise in prices. This was endorsed in the media by Kenney who said that it was a “back door” way of scrapping the Carbon Tax. Since that tax holiday passed in mid-summer Kenney has had to call on the Competition of Canada’s Bureau to investigate the possibility of mutually agreed price fixing amongst gas competitors, which is illegal under the Competition Act. 

It’s not that surprising that gas corporations would raise prices behind the inflation caused by the Russia-Ukraine war and global supply chain issues, among other things. A big gas company like Shell has increased its earnings per share by 26 per cent in the last three years. This isn’t a shock considering gas continues to be a form of energy we have to do away with because of its environmentally harmful emissions so CEOs and board members of big oil companies are going to continue to look for ways to line their pockets with bonuses on their way out.

This is the massively flawed aspect of free market fundamentalism that Poilievre represses. Instead he assumes that, for the most part, the “invisible hand” of the market is a benevolent force that only the government can impede on. In reality, corporations have two inter-related goals: profit maximization and cornering the market before other companies with the same profit model do it first.

Of course, a (not so) hidden dimension of libertarian ideology is that you are only as valuable as an individual as your contribution to the market. The unemployed, then, are often only seen as system leechers, soothed into inability by the government. Early in Poilievre’s career as a conservative MP he created outrage when he said on a radio program that aboriginals need to learn the value of hard work over taking compensation for the historical injustices of residential schools. He quickly retracted the comments and apologized. 

However, the ideology he runs on and the engineering of Canadian’s frustrations around real material conditions of scarcity to promulgate this free market ideology, should warrant a critical eye around past comments that seem on brand with his political cause.

As Poilievre ascends to power as the Leader of the Opposition, on the heels of the Freedom Convoy which he ardently backed, his political strategy should be relentlessly exposed for its convenient oversights and blatant government scapegoating. 

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