Skip to main content

Don Martin: The personal antipathy between Charest and Poilievre is damaging the Conservatives beyond repair

While waiting to enter the television studio, MPs or strategists representing their parties on political shows are almost always a congenial bunch.

They sit in the green room and small talk about everyday matters like normal humans. From my hosting experience, there are rarely signs of partisan tension or personal animosity.

Only when the camera red light comes on do the combatants engage in the battle of their talking points. And even when the discussion gets overheated, there’s rarely lingering acrimony after the show goes to commercial. The odd trio of MPs have been known to adjourn for drinks together.

But watching the talking heads for the Conservative leadership frontrunners Monday on CTV’s Power Play with host Evan Solomon was to see a very different dynamic at play.

These weren’t partisans discussing differing party positions. They were strong intelligent Conservative spokespersons engaged in take-no-prisoners internecine warfare.

The clash between Jenni Byrne of the Pierre Poilievre campaign and Tasha Kheiriddin from Jean Charest’s team was toxic, personal and consumed with burning all the bridges which could reunite the party after the September 10 vote.

Policy differences were ignored amid a barrage of accusations and allegations flying over their rival’s failing fitness to hold the job.

After being accused of lying amid a cross-talk cacophony of bitter disagreement, Kheirridin nicely summed up the theme of the segment. “When you start scorched earth, eventually you’re going to get it back.”

So there you have the sorry state of the race to become Canada’s Official Opposition Leader, traditionally a launch pad to the prime minister’s title.

It’s scorched earth with a month to go before the FIRST debate even starts raising the temperature to a boil.

One can only image what the public will think of either frontrunner’s qualifications for leadership if this blitzkrieg of character assassination continues for the five more months until voting day.

By then the confused Conservative member will be convinced Charest is a Justin Trudeau clone and Poilievre is Maxime Bernier’s twin.

It sets up the spectacle of the first governing party of Confederation being ripped in two while the Liberal enemy is laughing on the sidelines.

This is much more than a generation gap between a senior citizen candidate talking child care while the Generation X entry preaches the gospel of cryptocurrency.

It’s antagonistically personal to a level I’ve never seen before.

Even before Charest declared, Poilievre was campaigning against him as a Liberal who didn’t rate true-blue consideration for the leadership.

But Charest lowered the bar to limbo backbreaker levels when he told CTV on Sunday that Poilievre’s support for the Freedom Convoy ‘disqualifies” him from leadership contention.

That over-the-top position could well be the first sign of Charest’s deepening desperation.

Poilievre is attracting big crowds to enthusiastic events where memberships get sold to people and their families who are pumped up to actually vote.

Charest’s gatherings seem more infrequent and modest in size with a low-energy vibe that falls far short of mania.

What’s worse news for the former Quebec premier, as my friend Chantal Hebert of the Toronto Star points out, is that the harder-right Conservative tilt espoused by Poilievre is on the ascendency in Quebec while the Charest-led provincial Liberals are in the polling dumpster. That doesn’t bode well for Charest, who needs a significant Quebec surge to carry him into the leadership.

And so, with 150 bitterly-divided days to go before the leadership is decided, the two leading rivals have embraced a strategy of mutual assured destruction.

If they can’t win, the other is going to lose as leader of a badly fractured party.

But for political show hosts, this much is undoubtedly clear: Don’t let Jean Charest, Pierre Poilievre or their respective spokespersons in the same green room at the same time. War will break out before they make it to air.

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?



opinion Don Martin: With Trudeau resignation fever rising, a Conservative nightmare appears

With speculation rising that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will follow his father's footsteps in the snow to a pre-election resignation, political columnist Don Martin focuses on one Liberal cabinet minister who's emerging as leadership material -- and who stands out as a fresh-faced contrast to the often 'angry and abrasive' leader of the Conservatives.


OPINION Don Martin: Life in Trudeau's brain defies imagination

Getting inside Justin Trudeau's head these days requires a vivid imagination. The prime minister's bizarre statement on the Middle East war this week reflects a distorted view that human-shielded resistance by Hamas terrorists can be overcome with "maximum restraint" by Israel's military. Top Stories

Stay Connected