During the second week of September, Canadian newspaper headlines reported two events that will undoubtedly have immense consequences for the political future of our country — the death of our beloved Queen and the election of Pierre Poilievre as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada.
Traditionally, the job of the monarch is to embody stability, unity, and wisdom for a country’s people and government. While the monarch may not have any practical powers, his or her presence serves as a constant symbol of prosperity and guidance across generations. It is in this way that Her Majesty’s passing is perhaps a fitting metaphor for what the new opposition leader may bring to this country’s governance. As the Queen took her final few breaths on September 8, so did sensibility, wisdom, and professionalism in Canadian politics.
To understand Poilievre and his plans, one must first understand the circumstances of his election and the reason for the vacancy of the position he now holds.
Citizens all over the country are undoubtedly familiar with the barrage of protests that took place across the nation earlier this year. The demonstrations were headed by a parade of honking trucks and disgruntled individuals that touted obscene scribbles and draped their vehicles with Canadian flags — deconsecrating the maple leaf and that which it stands for. The cross-country protest dubbed the “Freedom Convoy,” culminated in the awkward occupation of Parliament Hill earlier this year.
The ostensibly “everyday people” that led the Freedom Convoy had the following list of demands: the removal of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau as head of government; an end to COVID-19 restrictions across the country; and the resignation of Erin O’Toole, the decidedly Red Tory leader of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC).
One of these demands was met.
While Trudeau remains our current head of government and not all of the safety precautions put in place during the height of the pandemic have been removed, Erin O’Toole was forced to resign after facing a secret ballot.
When O’Toole led the Conservative race against the Liberals during the 2021 election on a more centrist platform, he intended to capture swing voters. However, in the fog of honking truckers, an unprecedented wave of support for the staunch right People’s Party of Canada (PPC), and increasing political tensions from below the 49th parallel naturally leaking through our borders, it became clear that the CPC caucus expected a leader who, in their eyes, better represents more reactionary conservative values.
Enter Pierre Poilievre, a seven-term career politician from Alberta and cabinet member for former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Poilievre, who holds no more formal legal education than an undergraduate degree in international relations, campaigned on an “anti-elite,” “take back your freedom” platform. However, his campaign slogans were not the issue. In fact, I believe that most people would not hesitate to agree with the sentiments they espouse, myself included. The problem, however, is the behaviour and rhetoric behind these catchphrases and quippy promises that should be seen as a sign of not only irresponsibility but also charlatanry in the opposition leader.
Contradictions are the bedrock of Poilievre’s political being. Poilievre says he believes in upholding the individual liberties protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms but is seemingly unable to respect by-laws and emergency measures that are also implemented with the intention of protecting citizens.
In June, Poilievre marched alongside demonstrators protesting against vaccine mandates when, by that time, all provinces had dropped proof of vaccination requirements, the federal government had suspended the practice for domestic travellers, and at no point during the pandemic were citizens of Canada denied their rightful entry into, or exit out of, the country, whether or not they were vaccinated.
I do not believe that Poilievre is unaware of the implications of the persona he is presenting. Over the past few months, hundreds of thousands of people have become members of the Conservative Party to be able to vote for their new leader. Poilievre showcases two opposing personalities. He is able to show support for immigrants and small family businesses, while simultaneously associating with members of far-right groups and voters who have largely defected to the PPC. By igniting vitriolic feelings toward his political opponents and saying things that sound sugary sweet in the ears of electors looking for a change, Poilievre’s tactics seem to be a deliberate attempt to rile up disillusioned voters who have faced hard times these past few years.
I am a cardholding member of the CPC, and thus see potential in its foundations and fundamental values. What I believe the party must do is not pander to Canadians that are discontent with our current government through new buzzwords and bizarre promises, but go back to its roots and offer a real alternative to the Liberal Party of Canada.
There is a precise genealogy that connects our modern conservative party to the Liberal-Conservative Party of our first prime minister, John A. MacDonald, who embodied the principle of political cooperation. The CPC must look back to its tradition of measured moderation in its policies, rhetoric, and presentations. The party must find a leader who matches the values and ideas that Canadians hold today, a leader who is able to convey their ideas with effectiveness and charm and is able to build upon them — someone who is able to conserve our traditions and liberate our people.
Sulaiman Hashim Khan is a second-year student double majoring in English, and ethics, society & law.