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Don Martin: Firebrand Poilievre now starts the hard search for wider support as a no-pivot party leader


It’s a daring experiment by the Conservatives – overwhelmingly elect a hard-right fire-breathing leader and expect enough voters to gravitate in his direction to win a federal election.

That wasn’t the case with post-Harper leaders Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole, who shifted right-wing positions toward the mainstream in what became a futile effort to find broader voter support.

But there’ll be no waffling in the political winds by steamrolled-to-victory Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre; no pivoting to a kinder, gentler, mushy middle to win over voters. That’s just not in Poilievre’s DNA.

This makes Saturday’s commanding leadership win (with 68 per cent of the ballots) the easy part of Poilievre’s ultimate goal to become prime minister.

The baby-faced 43-year-old partisan pit-bull faces an even tougher test now to reposition himself as leading a viable government-in-waiting.

His next quest has bedevilled Conservatives and indeed majority-seeking Liberals for the last two decades: Where to find the crucial five per cent bump in voting support that it takes to win a federal election?

It’s not a simple search. His oratorical assault on elites, gatekeepers and the ArriveCAN app easily fires up those fed-up and frustrated with Justin Trudeau’s preachiness and his open-the-vault response to every politically correct cause.

But to corral votes further left politically and further east geographically would seem a mission impossible, particularly given that the issues he’s attacking are now losing some of their traction.

Poilievre’s preoccupied with “Justinflation” that’s easing slightly courtesy of a Bank of Governor he wants to fire. Meanwhile, the cryptocurrencies Poilievre advocated as a safe monetary alternative are in the dumpster and the illegal “Freedom Convoy” he supported for protesting vaccine mandates he opposed are a repressed memory and unlikely to be revived.

And then there’s his party unity problem.

While he delivered a classy outreach to rival camps on Saturday night, lasting damage has been done to the progressive wing of the party after his campaign trash-talked rivals as unworthy Conservatives from the opening bell of this seven-month leadership brawl. You can bet distant-second-place-finisher Jean Charest and his pathetic 16 per cent of voting party members will not lift a finger to help a Poilievre-led party. Ever.

That suggests we’ll see an Official Opposition that’s a Reform reincarnation – and that will be a tough sell in urban Ontario and B.C., a seat expansion challenge in Quebec and register at best modest support growth in Atlantic Canada.

All is not lost, of course.

The Liberal government is failing to deliver basic services on multiple fronts, has unleashed inflation-fuelling budgets and is led by a Prime Minister whose popularity is at a personal low. This government seems hell-bent to defeat itself.

Poilievre, for his part, is going to be a masterful Opposition leader, slicing and dicing the Trudeau Liberal cabinet with devastating quips and clips on the government's economic failures and working-class letdowns, many of which were nicely previewed in his feisty victory speech.

Anyone watching Question Period starting next week will see his exquisitely entertaining eviscerations of Justin Trudeau, which will stand in favorable contrast to a Prime Minister who pretends not to hear his questions while reading staff-scripted responses.

And with two-thirds of the Conservative caucus behind him and that massive convention victory, Pierre Poilievre will undoubtedly get something Scheer and O’Toole didn’t – two election campaigns before the party does its usual dump-the-loser-leader routine.

But his longer-term success depends on swaying the undefined, unpredictable and risk-adverse voters in Central Canada and B.C. who usually christen the election winner and do it while sticking to his controversial positions.

If those voters don’t pivot to firebrand Pierre Poilievre, well, congratulations Conservatives -- you’ve just voted yourself four more years or longer in Official Opposition.

That’s the bottom line.  




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