Behold the transformation of Poilievre

It appears newly minted Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is willing to add a little water to his wine. After months of criss-crossing the country peddling conspiracy theories and fuelling anti-Liberal rage with juvenile slogans and deranged claims about Canadians losing control of their lives, Poilievre is showing signs of moderation.

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Opinion

It appears newly minted Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is willing to add a little water to his wine. After months of criss-crossing the country peddling conspiracy theories and fuelling anti-Liberal rage with juvenile slogans and deranged claims about Canadians losing control of their lives, Poilievre is showing signs of moderation.

He has insisted, wrongly, for months that government spending is the main cause of inflation in Canada, a claim not supported by economic evidence.

University of Calgary economists Trevor Tombe and Yu Chen released a study last week confirming what many economists have said: that inflation has been caused by many factors, but that it’s primarily supply-driven, mostly from rising global energy prices. Government spending and expansionary monetary policy from the Bank of Canada (which Poilievre erroneously refers to as “money printing”) has played a role, but it’s not the driving factor.

Poilievre knows that. However, he blamed the federal Liberals and the “financially illiterate” Bank of Canada for inflation because it helped him win the leadership race.

JUSTIN TANG / THE CANADIAN PRESS FILES

Conservative Party of Canada Leader Pierre blamed the federal Liberals and the 'financially illiterate' Bank of Canada for inflation because it helped him win the leadership race.

Poilievre has known all along that once he secured that victory he would have to establish a more conciliatory, statesmanlike brand to broaden his appeal to Canadians. The clown-like antics that got him into Stornoway won’t get him into the prime minister’s office. He has to climb out of the rabbit hole he fell into and take off the tinfoil hat if he wants to win government.

It’s delicate work; Poilievre can’t stray too far from the “freedom convoy” echo chamber that helped secure his leadership victory. He has to find the right balance between the two without losing the majority of his base. If he plays his cards right – and he’s a pretty skilled card player – the gains could outweigh the loses. If they do, he may have a shot at victory in regions such as southern Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces. Former Tory prime minister Brian Mulroney used to say: “You dance with the one that brung ya.” But that only works if your dancing partner can get you into the dance. Right now, Poilievre is on the outside looking in.

That explains why he flip-flopped this week on one of the Liberal government’s “money printing” policies. Poilievre now supports proposed legislation to temporarily double the GST credit. The increased benefit is designed to help low-income Canadians who are struggling with inflation.

Poilievre now supports proposed legislation to temporarily double the GST credit. The increased benefit is designed to help low-income Canadians who are struggling with inflation.

Poilievre initially bashed the move, claiming – wrongly – that it would “pour gasoline” on inflation. What he now acknowledges is the benefits of helping those most affected by inflation far outweigh any tiny effect it may have on inflation.

Most of the GST credit money will be spent on groceries and other non-discretionary items – the prices of which are driven largely by supply-side factors such as high energy prices, weather, and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The GST credit is not a fiscal stimulus; it will have minimal, if any, impact on inflation. Poilievre knows that. He also knows it’s good policy that will help people most in need. He has to show voters he understands the difference between attack-dog politics and doing what’s right for Canadians. That’s why he’s supporting it.

DANIEL CRUMP / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Poilievre can't stray too far from the freedom convoy echo chamber that helped secure his leadership victory.

What voters witnessed this week is probably the early stages of a Poilievre metamorphosis. Canadians will likely see incremental changes in the Tory leader; a slow shedding of the reckless and myopic positions advanced during the leadership campaign, replaced gradually with more insightful and well thought out polices.

He has already stopped urging people to buy cryptocurrency to hedge against inflation (mostly because its value has tanked), he’s no longer calling for the dismissal of the Bank of Canada governor (nor is he accusing the central bank of being financially illiterate) and he hasn’t referred to people losing control of their lives for awhile. It’s just a matter of time before he drops the inane “justinflation” buzzword as he attempts to grow into political adulthood.

Poilievre isn’t going to undergo radical change, but he has to become less radicalized if he wants to win government. Supporting a boost in the GST credit was a good first step.

tom.brodbeck@freepress.mb.ca

Tom Brodbeck

Tom Brodbeck
Columnist

Tom has been covering Manitoba politics since the early 1990s and joined the Winnipeg Free Press news team in 2019.

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