OTTAWA, Ont. — As Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre strides into his party’s convention with a surge ahead of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the polls, a prominent U.K. Brexiteer says conservatives around the world should take note.
Lord Daniel Hannan tells POLITICO that Poilievre is one of the most interesting center-right leaders “on the international stage right now” for having “already transformed the demographics of his party, reaching out to young people.”
Hannan will share his praise of Poilievre with Canadians as the closing keynote speaker at this week’s Conservative Party convention, a three-day confab in Quebec City that will invigorate a party dead-set on ousting Canada’s eight-year old Liberal government in the next election.
The former member of European Parliament was even making the case last summer that Poilievre would be the ideal candidate to replace Boris Johnson as U.K. Tory leader.
Hannan made the cheeky endorsement in a July 2022 Daily Telegraph column, praising Poilievre as an “unapologetic tax cutter” who “does not hide from the culture wars,” and swooning over his “mastery of social media” to rapidly expand the party base — just the type of figure Britain’s Tories needed.
“It’s an absolute no-brainer,” he wrote.
Poilievre, who was elected party leader a year ago, is soaring in the polls as he hammers elites and the Liberal government while praising “common people,” the ordinary working Canadians struggling with high interest rates, inflation and a housing market many families have been priced out of — at a time when the global economy is still in the throes of disruptions from pandemic decision making and crises like the war in Ukraine.
Not at all like American political conventions, the Canadian events are perfunctory conferences for the grassroots where the backroom chatter among key players and organizers is more important to the party than what gets marquee billing on the floor — save for eruptions over controversial policies, like one that seeks to limit gender-affirming care.
The speakers’ lineup at the biennial confab has already turned heads, with one keynote by the former politician who had played an instrumental role pumping up Brexit and another by a retired Canadian general who made waves with culture-war comments controversial enough to force his resignation from a research organization’s board.
Hannan, a vocal critic of pandemic lockdowns and the head of a free market think tank called the Institute for Free Trade, is back by demand. He was a hit at the Conservatives’ 2018 convention in Nova Scotia, mocking Trudeau as a “bimbo supply teacher with a nice smile.”
He also made some pitches for updating trade policy: “What about a trade deal between the U.K. and Canada that simply said whatever is legal in your country is automatically legal in ours and vice versa? This applies to services. It applies to professional qualifications,” he said at the time. “And if we have such a deal between the United Kingdom and Canada, it becomes very difficult not to extend that same deal to the United States.”
Another speaker, retired Lt.-Gen. Michel Maisonneuve, will address the convention when it opens Thursday night.
His last big public speech earned him a standing O from senior Canadian military officers, followed by the boot from the board of a chronic pain research organization because of his comments slamming climate change policies and cancel culture. He sounded off on a range of Canadian culture-war points, like the removal of historical statues and apologies by leaders made to various groups. Maisonneuve has protested about being “canceled.”
The speech, which was quoted in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper, took aim at divisive political leaders, although named no one specific: “Can you imagine a military leader labeling half of his command as deplorables, fringe radicals and less-thans, and then expect them to fight as one?”
Stephen Saideman, director of the Canadian Defence and Security Network at Carleton University, attended that speech. He penned a warning in the Globe and Mail newspaper that Maisonneuve’s appearance could be a troubling sign Canada may follow in the U.S.’s footsteps with the increasing politicization of civil-military relations, via a political party giving a platform to Maisonneuve’s claims the military has become too woke.
Not that the Liberals haven’t also mixed military with politics. In 2015, Trudeau appointed former Lt.-Col. Harjit Sajjan as defense minister — an unusual move in Canadian politics to put a former military officer at the helm.
The Conservatives also have saved a speaking slot for former Defense Minister Peter MacKay, a statesmanly figure in the party with a vintage from the Stephen Harper-era who sought party leadership in 2020 with a more centrist appeal and who once campaigned for Canada to meet its NATO spending target.
There’s a balancing act at play in managing all the theatrics and messaging.
“For the Conservative Party of Canada to be successful, it still has to subscribe to a big tent party philosophy,” said J.P. Lewis, a political science professor at the University of New Brunswick with expertise in Canada’s conservative movement.
That even speaks to the mix of characters in play — more polemical figures and old guard speakers like MacKay.
“Maybe just to contrast with the Republican Party, for our party to the right, there’s still an attempt to maintain that balance, … maintain that coalition of right-of-center voters — and politicians, for that matter.”
The main event will be the speech by Poilievre, who won leadership a year ago and has emerged in Canadian politics as the “clear front-runner” based on his strong polling, on the back of “fatigue” with the Trudeau government, Lewis notes — although it could still be a year or two before the next election is called.
At the Liberals’ May convention, Justin Trudeau took campaign-style shots at Poilievre, dismissing his rival as cartoonish: “His slogans and buzzwords are not serious solutions to the serious challenges we’re facing.”
Poilievre, who has struck a nerve of collective anxiety about squeezed household finances, fired back at Trudeau when interest rates went up in June: “You and your spending, your out-of-control debt and taxation are leading us headline into a full-scale financial crisis. And I will not let you do it.”
The Conservative leader takes the stage prime time on Friday, after working on softening his tone over the summer, shedding his old image of an attack-dog politician to appear more relatable.
He’ll have everyone’s attention.
The post Canada’s Conservatives recruit Brexiteer and ‘canceled’ former general to fire up grassroots appeared first on Politico.