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Don Martin: Poilievre doesn't feel your pain, but he's sure good at communicating it

His pitch to voters doesn’t come from personal experience.

Pierre Poilievre’s outreach to average Canadians struggling against inflation, seeking a decent paycheque from a steady job and owning an affordable abode are challenges the Conservative leader has never endured himself.

Probably no other leader, including Justin Trudeau with his modest drama teacher resume, has landed in a party leadership with less real-world work experience than Poilievre, who did little more than spend a couple years as a political staffer on Parliament Hill before becoming an MP.

That’s when the 25-year-old started his MP career earning a $150,000-plus salary in 2004 dollars, which has risen in tandem with inflation and been boosted by the Official Opposition Leader bonus to peak at $286,000 now.

That also handed him something ‘ordinary Canadians’ could never hope to dream of achieving by age 31 -- a locked-in, platinum-grade, government-guaranteed pension with extraordinary benefits waiting for him when he turns 55.

And there’s no small irony to see Poilievre leading the feel-your-pain charge to find affordable housing while living in relative luxury of the well-staffed Official Opposition Leader’s mansion courtesy of taxpayers.

Normally the Liberals might be tempted to make political hay out of the dichotomy between their rival’s coddled lifestyle and ordinary Canadian lives except their leader lives a parallel track of incredible privilege.

But I digress.

File photo of Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre in the House of Commons in Ottawa on June 14, 2006. (CP PHOTO/Tom Hanson)

Convention a 'golden opportunity' for Poilievre

While he doesn’t feel your pain, Poilievre has proven apt at communicating it. And he is stepping onto the stage of the Conservative convention this weekend as leader of a party in poll-boosted ascendency.

It’s an important three-day event for the year-old leader, particularly Poilievre’s nationally-televised speech Friday cheered on by the helpful endorsement of former Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay, to start sealing the prime ministerial deal with voters.

Polling has Poilievre closing in on majority government support IF an election were held today. But it’s summer when polling can be warped by cottage-getaway distractions. Besides, the next election is increasingly likely to be two long years away, thanks to an NDP lifeboat deal the sinking Liberals are determined to keep afloat. And the Liberals haven’t even begun their inevitable fearmongering campaign against Poilievre.

But convention attention is a golden opportunity for Poilievre to go beyond the blame game and hammering home the glasses-gone, buff-bodied, heavily-advertised family-man image of an electoral combatant ready for battle.

It’s a time to start putting some policy muscle on that political facelift.

Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre (left) watches as Ontario Premier Doug Ford delivers remarks before the start of the Toronto Caribbean Carnival, on Saturday, August 5, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

What are his ideas?

While he excels at opposing all things Justin Trudeau, that’s a campaign for opposition leader. To make a serious run for prime minister, Poilievre needs to propose ideas that will fly with at least 40 per cent of voters.

Of course, it’s great fun to bash the Bank of Canada governor for boosting interest rates to tame inflation, pledge to axe the carbon tax and blame demon gatekeepers for every bureaucratic obstruction to throwing up affordable housing boom on every vacant lot.

But is this wannabe prime minister suggesting he’d interfere in monetary policy? Is he going to knock down the current government’s climate change plan without having one himself after this crazy summer? And how to unleash a house-building frenzy without protective bureaucrats when any rush to mass construction clearly requires adult supervision, as Ontario Premier Doug Ford so dangerously discovered in his greenbelt housing debacle.

So far, Poilievre seems disinclined to pivot policy in any direction, partly because his own MPs are worried their nominations to carry the Conservative banner into the next election will face the wrath of forces further right should party positions soften. I’m told it’s a fear regularly raised behind caucus doors.

But as Poilievre reigns over his first convention, there’s little doubt that the snivelling political operative who regularly called me 20 years ago to complain about negative coverage of then-boss Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day is grown up and ready for a prime-time showdown.

His annoying smugness and self-righteous snark are increasingly suppressed while that image of him as the briefcase-carrying high school nerd who bullies shoved into lockers is starting to fade.

Then there’s the refusal of his greatest asset to go away, that being the toxified brand of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

If he does indeed seek a fourth term, even the most cautious bookie would, under current circumstances, have to rate Poilievre the odds-on favourite to win the next election.

That would allow the 1999 winner of a Magna International’s “As Prime Minister I Would…” essay contest to fill in the blanks with a vision he should start articulating now.

That’s the bottom line.



ANALYSIS What do the policies Poilievre's party passed say about the Conservatives' future?

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre spent the summer speaking about housing affordability, a core focus that attendees at the party's Quebec City convention were quick to praise him for. But by the end of the weekend, delegates opted to instead pass policies on contentious social issues. What does that say about the Conservatives' future?



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