Poilievre has a rare opportunity to set the agenda, not simply respond to the circumstances around him. Photo credit: Twitter/Pierre Poilievre
When you think of Canada’s conservative heartland, rarely does the mind conjure the cobblestone streets and rolling hills of Quebec City. And yet here we are, on day two of the Conservative Party policy convention.
While he will have attended dozens of conventions over the course of his career, this is Pierre Poilievre’s first time at the helm of the ship. He will take the stage tonight to give the event’s keynote address and does so riding a summer wave of public opinion polling that has the Conservatives firmly in majority government territory. In fact, Abacus Data’s latest numbers have Poilievre 14-points ahead of Justin Trudeau, with net approval numbers higher than net negatives for the first time.
These kinds of numbers haven’t been seen in well over a decade. To have this type of unprecedented lead heading into a convention will provide Poilievre with a very different experience and hold over the party membership than his predecessors.
For context, former Conservative leader Andrew Scheer headed up his convention in Halifax in 2018. On day one, Scheer was met with the news that Maxime Bernier was defecting from the Conservative caucus, and would create his own party. The two-day event was hijacked, and considerable efforts were spent doing damage control to ensure that the caucus was presented as a united force following Bernier’s stunt.
At the 2021 convention, Erin O’Toole was live-streamed speaking to an empty ballroom in Ottawa. The event took place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and delegates were forced to take in the experience virtually.
Part of O’Toole’s pitch to members was presenting a new face in the next election, in a bid to appeal to voters who may not have previously cast a ballot for the Conservative Party. But while O’Toole talked about a more moderate approach on key issues like the environment, Conservative delegates were voting for policies to reject adding language into the policy book that acknowledged “climate change is real.” O’Toole’s speech was powerful, but delegates won the media cycle.
In the case of both Scheer and O’Toole, the respective leaders were unable to commandeer the room and were instead forced to respond to the actions of others. This won’t be the case for Poilievre.
Policy conventions, no matter which political party you subscribe to, are wacky events. In 2016, the NDP adopted a resolution to recognize the Leap Manifesto, which advocated for broad-based, radical changes to society and the Canadian economy to deal with climate change at their national convention. And not to be undone, in 2018 Liberal delegates voted overwhelmingly in favour of removing criminal penalties for the personal possession and consumption of all illicit drugs.
Conservatives have taken their fair share of heat over policies adopted on the convention floor over the years. But unlike in years past, Poilievre has a rare opportunity to set the agenda, not simply respond to the circumstances around him. The Conservative Leader’s speech tonight offers a glimpse into the mind of a Prime Minister in waiting, who, for all intents and purposes, is set to win big in the next federal election.
Throughout the tenure of his career, Poilievre has shown a propensity for being one step ahead of his opponents, and no one should be surprised when he seizes the opportunity tonight to meet the moment ahead of him.
Josie Sabatino is a Senior Consultant at Summa Strategies, focused on providing strategic insight and helping clients meet their objectives in an ever changing and complex political and regulatory environment. Prior to joining Summa, Josie spent nearly a decade in political communications and most recently served as the Director of Communications to the Hon. Erin O’Toole, former Leader of the Official Opposition.