Canadian politics took another step toward the far right with the election of Pierre Poilievre as leader of the federal Conservative Party on September 10.
With his win, Poilievre becomes the leader of the official opposition in the Canadian parliament. The extent of the Conservative Party’s rightward move is reflected in the fact that Poilievre won in landslide on the first ballot against four other candidates, garnering 68.2% of the vote. Runner up, Jean Charest, received only 16.1%.
Poilievre has gained notoriety as a vocal supporter of the far-right convoy that occupied Ottawa and other cities across Canada last year. He has previously supported the far-right Canadian yellow vests movement, a precursor to the convoy, which openly expressed anti-migrant and fascist views. In both cases he went so far as to meet with and provide provisions for convoy participants.
I have discussed this ongoing rightward shift previously in the context of the federal election of 2021.
During the campaign, Poilievre signed up more than 312,000 new dues-paying members to the Conservative Party and his team raised $5.3 million in the second quarter of 2022 alone.
Far-right dog whistling
Throughout his campaign, Poilievre used far-right language targeting “woke culture” and saying his non-conservative political opponents would shed “leftist tears” with his victory. He even accused corporate media of being “Liberal mouthpieces”. Among his promises is defunding the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) — the country's public broadcaster.
Poilievre opposes COVID-19 vaccine and mask mandates. He accuses the government of “spying” on Canadians during the pandemic. If elected Prime Minister, he says he would ban all future vaccine mandates for work and travel.
Perhaps most devastating are Poilievre’s “environmental” policies, which read as though they were written by extractive companies. If elected PM, Poilievre would repeal the carbon tax and the clean fuel standard. He would also change federal regulations to make it even easier to approve oil and gas projects and pipelines, as well as dams, and has called for more mining of minerals for electric cars.
Poilievre was among the many Conservative parliamentarians who voted in 2005 against approving same-sex marriage.
Poilievre had to apologise after using a 2008 radio interview to question whether Canada was “getting value for money” in compensating Indigenous survivors of Canada’s genocidal residential schools.
The Abortion Rights Coalition of Canada (ARCC) lists Poilievre as an anti-choice Members of Parliament.He has fairly consistently voted in support of anti-choice private member bills and motions.
Poilievre’s victory has received at least one strong condemnation from the labour movement. Mark Hancock, National President of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), released a sharp statement that openly called out Poilievre’s connections with the far-right forces swirling around and in the convoys: “Pierre has spent his leadership campaign making the Conservative Party a cozier place for far-right extremists and conspiracy theorists in order to sell memberships. This isn’t your parents’ Conservative Party, or even Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party. It’s now Pierre’s Convoy Party of Canada.
“His leadership will be a disaster for working people in Canada.”
Unfortunately few other voices of the labour movement and social democracy have been so forthright, with New Democratic Party (NDP) leader Jagmeet Singh offering the usual congratulations and platitudes about agreeing to disagree.
A social democratic breach
Poilievre’s success, and the recent success of the far-right more broadly, is in large part aided by the political breach left by the centrist turn of the social democratic party, the NDP, in successive elections. As I have discussed earlier, the NDP went so far as to enter into a cooperation agreement with the ruling Liberal Party in the current parliament — effectively removing itself as a government critic.
Poilievre is tapping into outrage over the rising cost of living, the housing crisis, and employment uncertainty hoping to ride a populist groundswell, as Trumpist candidates in the United States have. As these crises worsen, he may succeed.
At the same time, the social democrats have failed to offer meaningful alternatives to working-class people. They have not promoted bolder policies like universal basic income, social housing builds, rent controls, free tuition, or even previous staples like robust corporate taxation.
Inflation and affordability should be wheelhouse issues for the New Democrats. Instead, their caution, and neoliberal messaging aimed at small business have left a void, in a period of mounting discontent and anger. And it is this that, quite incredibly, the arch conservative Poilievre has wielded to some effect.
Despite the horror for leftists posed by the prospect, Poilievre could well become PM in the next election. Opposing him and his far-right populist messaging will require a serious, left-wing alternative that is not afraid to take an angry approach itself to the miserable neoliberal status quo of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.