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Thoughts on the emergence of Pierre Poilievre from political writer Paul Wells


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Posted with permission from author Paul Wells

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What Poilievre is up to

We’re in an odd world where most of the journalistic coverage of Pierre Poilievre is critical, but he might yet become Prime Minister. The week’s big Abacus poll suggests this may simply be because more and more people are done with Justin Trudeau. But we’re still missing a theory of Pierre Poilievre. Since Shannon Proudfoot’s profile of him for a prominent food magazine last year (note: Shannon didn’t write or like the headline), there’ve actually been fewer attempts to figure the guy out as he gets closer to an election.

Here’s one thing to chew on. In early 2022, two weeks after Poilievre announced his candidacy for the Conservative leadership, this essay appeared in The Hub, a good online journal of mostly conservative-leaning opinion. It was by Ben Woodfinden, “a doctoral candidate and political theorist at McGill University.” Woodfinden has since got hired as Poilievre’s communications director, which suggests that if there’s anyone who thought Woodfinden had Poilievre figured out, it’s Poilievre.

What did he write? Woodfinden’s essay noted that Poilievre had already been talking about “gatekeepers” who make the rules that stifle initiative and progress for ordinary people. He encouraged Poilievre to keep going. The “gatekeeper” talk could appeal to a few different corners of today’s conservative movement — small-government conservatives, populists and new Canadians who feel frustrated in their attempts to get ahead. Woodfinden writes:

“The elites in this message are essentially political elites whose actions hold back the so-called ‘little guy’—ordinary Canadians who just want to own a home and make a living. There is undoubtedly something of a populist moment in the Canadian right at the moment, and this is a particular framing that can resonate with the Tory base whilst not giving in to the darker and more sinister populist temptation.


“Put all this together, and Poilievre may have the makings of a perfect storm message. It scratches the itch of different parts of the conservative coalition, and it has the potential makings of a winning electoral coalition that could propel the Poilievre-led Conservatives to government. Whilst appealing to both small government and populist types in the conservative movement, it also potentially offers a populist message that appeals to people who feel left behind or screwed over in Canada today, with ire aimed at a clique of gatekeepers who frustrate the goals and aspirations of ordinary Canadians.”

I’ll let you read the rest if you like. Woodfinden’s essay is here. Not having written it I offer no warranty for it. But I’ve always found it worthwhile to consider what politicians think they’re doing, rather than just what their worst critics think they’re doing. Maybe this piece will be illuminating.

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