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Pierre Poilievre's cheap romanticism
Progressives underestimate his appeal at their own peril
In 1974, music critic Jon Landau said, “I saw rock and roll’s future and its name is Bruce Springsteen.”
Well, last night I saw Canadian conservatism’s future and its name is Pierre Poilievre. But this future is, paradoxically, tied to visions of an idealized past.
Poilievre drew a crowd of at least 5,000 in the deep southwest of his hometown Calgary — about 100 times the turnout for the campaign kickoff of yesterday’s man, Jean Charest.
On the topic of Springsteen, a playlist that played while attendees awaited for Poilievre, who was an hour late, included “Glory Days,” with the implied message that Poilievre will bring back Canada’s glory days.
Never mind that the song is about the futility of nostalgia; the crowd wasn’t there for the nuances of Springsteen’s lyricism.
It’s said that Canadian politics roughly follows the U.S. by about six years — they elected George W. Bush in 2000, we elected Stephen Harper in 2006; Obama assumed office in 2009, Trudeau did in 2015.
By identifying the very real material concerns of a large segment of Canada’s population while urging a return to an imaginary, romanticized past where all was harmonious, Poilievre is playing the role of a Canadian Donald Trump six years later.
“I am a proud Canadian and I want Canada to be the way it used to be before the Liberals took over,” said Brenda Friederici, who showed up to the rally with a homemade sign thanking Poilievre for “giving this Canadian grandma hope for her children, grandchildren and future generations.”
“Let’s help Pierre make Canada free again,” it read.
I asked Friederici if she wants to Make Canada Great Again. “Nope, that’s a Trump thing,” she replied. “I like what Pierre says — Let’s make Canada the freest country on earth.”
She said Poilievre, who was first elected to office at 25 years old, is an authentic blue-collar Canadian.
What should concern progressives, whether liberal or leftist, is Poilievre is a much more sophisticated, disciplined messenger than Trump.
In his remarks, Poilievre cultivated an empathetic image:
Think of the single mother who’s skipping meals so her kids don’t have to, because food inflation now means that four-in-five families have to cut the quantity or quality of their diet just so they can afford to pay for it, or the working guy who can’t afford to drive to work with a-buck-sixty-a-litre gas, or the 32-year-old forced to live in his mom’s basement because he can’t afford the price of a house after home values have doubled in just seven years…
There’s a couple living in a trailer park five minutes from my Ottawa home and they make $100,000 working at a quarry. They’ve calculated that not only can they not leave the trailer park today, but at the current trajectory they will never be able to afford a home. The aggregate that they pull out of that quarry is used to make the foundations of houses.
When the people who build our homes can no longer afford to live in them, our economic system is fundamentally unjust.
If the federal NDP had any spine, they would be screaming this line to the high heavens and explicitly identifying capitalism as the culprit.
Instead, it’s coming from a right-wing demagogue who goes on to say this is due to “Justinflation,” which he promised to combat with “common cents” — a couple of the extremely cringe, pre-packaged one-liners the audience couldn’t get enough of.
Poilievre’s proposed solutions to the structural problems he identifies will only exacerbate them.
“We’re going to print less money — build more houses,” Poilievre said, as if urban sprawl didn’t already exist.
When he wasn’t blaming your problems on inflation, he pointed towards nebulous “gatekeepers,” who he says are stifling free enterprise through burdensome regulations, curtailing free speech via the “woke folk,” preventing the country from building pipelines “north, south, east and west” and imposing medical tyranny through vaccine mandates.
He also took aim at the media, but it was confined to one outlet in particular.
“The billion dollars we’re wasting on the CBC — gone,” he said to the most uproarious applause of the evening, which was followed by chants of “defund the CBC.”
For a libertarian ideologue like Poilievre, the solution to every problem is simple — more freedom.
Echoing the Social Creditors of yore, he lambasted the “politicians and bankers” who caused the 2008 financial crisis, setting up his obligatory cryptocurrency plug.
“Obviously, these kinds of new concepts are going to be risky and nobody should put their life savings into any such thing,” Poilievre disclaimed, “but what we should do is have a free market where people can choose which money they use.”
In other words, ‘I don’t want to be liable for you pissing away your life savings, but I want to make it easier for you to do so.’
Prior to Poilievre’s speech, I chatted with Lynn Scheuerman, who voted for the People’s Party in the previous election but is ecstatic about Poilievre’s candidacy. She is emblematic of the dark conspiracist undercurrent Poilievre is trying to woo:
The only chance that this country will have to remain a sovereign nation is if Pierre Poilievre is prime minister. We already know Trudeau has many times said that he believes in the New World Order. He said he’s a globalist. He doesn’t believe in sovereign nations, so in my view he’s guilty of treason … Trudeau will bankrupt this country. You can see him doing it intentionally every day.
It’s easy to dismiss Tuesday night’s turnout as a mass of white, uneducated, elderly dupes in Canada’s conservative epicentre. But Poilievre is building a movement, similar not only to the Trump of 2016 but the Trudeau of 2015, as evidenced by the massive crowds he’s attracting everywhere he goes.
If progressives don’t take this threat seriously, they’re in for a rude awakening.
Edited by Scott Schmidt
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