Liberals should be very worried about Poilievre’s leadership win

Pierre Poilievre’s decisive victory on Saturday confirmed not only that the Conservative Party belongs to him, but that it is now more unified, more focused, more organized and better prepared to win.

For the first time since the merger of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservative parties, the Liberals face an Opposition Leader who must make no real effort to keep his party united.

Unlike Andrew Scheer, who squealed in the 13th final ballot in 2017 to win the leadership with 1.9% of the vote, or Erin O’Toole who won in 2020 in the third final ballot with second-round support from social of Leslyn Lewis conservative supporters, Poilievre owes nothing to the candidates and to any organized part of the party. His 70.7% of the vote, or 68.15% of the points, even crushed Stephen Harper’s first electoral victory in 2004, when the former Prime Minister won 68.9% of the popular vote and 56.2% of the points. At the time, Harper’s challenger Belinda Stronach won 80 ridings east of Manitoba as of Saturday, Poilievre was dominating everywhere. Jean Charest — despite the support of almost all Quebec MPs — only won six ridings in Quebec and two in Ontario: Ottawa Center where the so-called “Freedom Convoy” occupied the city for three weeks, and the very wealthy University-Rosedale .

Even Alain Rayes, a former Quebec party lieutenant and virulent critic of Poilievre, was unable to deliver his riding of Richmond—Arthabaska to Charest.

Progressive Conservatives who watched the result nervously on Saturday have reason to be concerned. Their influence in the party has diminished. (Together, Scott Aitchison and Charest only got 17.2% of the points, or 13.8% of the vote.)

The previously influential social conservative wing of the party has also seen its influence diminish. Although there are social conservatives around Poilievre, those for whom abortion is the number one issue supported Lewis. She saw her support fall from 30% of the points in 2020 to less than 10% on Saturday.

On television that night before Poilievre’s victory, Rayes said he would be “absolutely” comfortable with Poilievre as leader “if there is a change in the way he does politics, in a recentralization that is done”. The new leader had to stop being willfully blind, he told Radio-Canada. Rayes previously accused Poilievre of engaging in divisive politics and flirting with extremists.

Another Quebec MP, Joel Godin, was quoted in Le Journal de Montreal on Sunday as saying he hoped the new leader would “readjust” his speech to be more “inclusive” of progressive conservatives.

But people around Poilievre say that’s not going to happen. He might play down more controversial stuff — as he did on Saturday night without mentioning the World Economic Forum, convoy, bitcoin, or the firing of the Bank of Canada governor — but Poilievre will remain who he is in tone and in politics.

“There will be no flip-flop,” said a member of his entourage.

The party will now focus solely on restoring hope to Canadians who feel they have lost control of their wallets and their lives and blame the Liberal government for raising the cost of living. It’s a message Poilievre has delivered across the country at rallies filled with bus drivers, firefighters, small business owners, young and retired people, new immigrants and former immigrants, and yes, anti-vaccines too.

Of the 678,702 members eligible to vote, Poilievre’s team registered 311,958 and had nearly all of them voted, 308,299. His use of social media to drive engagement may be just getting started. This increase in membership lists will increase the party’s volunteer base, produce positive results and boost fundraising. Poilievre has already raised $6.7 million. By comparison, when Justin Trudeau ran for Liberal leadership in 2013, he raised $1.9 million. The Grits are also way behind in membership numbers. They currently have around 150,000 supporters (although they usually have around 200,000).

This Poilievre base, however, needs to stay motivated and engaged — maybe for two years or more. That’s why we’ll likely continue to hear Poilievre keep talking about ending all COVID vaccine mandates and banning his ministers from attending the World Economic Forum. Who’s more motivated than someone willing to live in their truck for three weeks when it’s -20 degrees Celsius outside?

Yet many conservatives will continue to believe that this is Poilievre’s most tactical mistake: failing to support law and order no matter who breaks the law. Charest seemed to allude to this Sunday when he announced, on social networks, his return to the private sector.

It’s a challenge that Poilievre may be able to rise to. So many Canadians have no idea who he is.

Last weekend, he demonstrated that he is an excellent communicator — in French and in English. His wife, Anaida Galindo, is a formidable trilingual speaker born in Venezuela before immigrating to Montreal. She helps massage Poilievre’s rougher edges. While immaturity may have marked Poilievre’s first decade in Ottawa — like the “f— you guys” comment at committee and the suggestion that residential school survivors didn’t deserve compensation and should learn the value of hard work – it humanizes it.

With a gorgeous wife and two beautiful young children, a former Tory campaign strategist leaned in on Saturday to say, “This is a package I can sell.”

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