Josh is the main author of Northern Currents. Josh is an electrician of 10 years and has been interested in radical politics for even longer. Follow me on Twitter at @josh_nc.
If the Conservative Party wants a new leader that will unite the party, Pierre Poilievre is the closest they will get.
While I was scrolling through my personal Facebook feed the other day, I came across a conservative family member’s post – for the sake of anonymity, let’s call him Sam. Sam’s post claimed that he nearly ‘teared up’ while watching Poilievre’s announcement to run for Prime Minister.
It would be easy to dismiss Sam’s thoughts as ignorant, laughable, and misguided. In the many political conversations that I’ve had with him, these would probably be accurate descriptions of his viewpoints in my opinion. However, after watching Poilievre’s announcement video, there is more to the story than simple ignorance.
Poilievre’s video touches on core working-class issues, with a mood of plausible, genuine sincerity. He even mentions the working class by name. Of course, Poilevre doesn’t care about the working class at all, as his quippy catchphrases reveal.
Hollow media soundbites
His appeal to some isn’t really surprising. His quippy, media-friendly soundbites are easy to digest, consume, and hurl back and forth within the right-wing echo chamber.
Advocacies for an abstract sense of “freedom” are numerous in Poilievre’s announcement video and politically timely given the covid convoy’s appropriation of “freedom” discourse (does that word even mean anything anymore?). It appears to be paying off too – as a recent Leger poll (p. 18) revealed that 42% of the PPC’s own supporters prefer him as a leader, compared to 28% preferring Maxime Bernier.
He expands on his freedom advocacy by calling for workers to have the “freedom to keep the fruits of your labour” and claiming that “In a free country, smaller government makes room for bigger citizens.” This language is irresistible – although factually nonsensical – to the conservatively-minded. Combined with subtle nods to social conservatives via “worshipping God in your own way,” Poilievre will surely lock in much of the far-right and social conservative vote.
While he expels the usual Conservative talking points around (Just)inflation, attacks of Justin Trudeau, and law and order rhetoric, he also speaks to a very pressing working-class issue. He even comes across as somewhat genuine too:
More thirty-year-olds live in their parent’s basements because they can’t afford the now typical cost of a home $800000 meanwhile, a small financial elite with access to all that printed money buy up real estate and rent out to a growing class of permanent tenants – people who may never be able to afford a home.
No doubt this will resonate to both the younger generations who struggle to afford to pay rent and older generations who see their kids struggling. Of course, it is the lack of regulations and controls, combined with the speculative nature of the housing market that caused this in the first place, which is in line with Poilevre’s own ideology.
Austerity attack dog
His diagnosis of the horrifically unaffordable housing market is correct. His solutions to this and other issues are classic, bold-faced austerity politics.
Take for example these absolute gems of statements: “A job is the best anti-poverty program,” and “Family and community are the best safety net.” Whereas O’Toole at least made a minimal effort to move toward the center and care about labour issues, Poilevre represents a hard turn back toward the right.
If a job is the best anti-poverty program, what are the chances that Poilevre will support a federal job guarantee to reach full employment in Canada? Like, a true right to work? Or UBI or even expanded unemployment benefits for those unable to work, including those with disabilities (which is higher now due to long-covid)?
Pretty low I’d assume; more likely is the same old promise of more jobs through corporate tax cuts.
Or how about his comment that “family and community are the best safety net?” What does this mean? It means he has his eye on Canada’s public health system, most likely with privatization as the goal. This is a long-time goal of the Conservative party.
We don’t actually have to speculate, we can listen to Poilevre’s own words about Canada’s welfare state in 2018. Here he deploys the same, tired talking points about social welfare programs (emphasis mine):
What is truly horrific is the existing welfare state, which survives only by keeping people poor. It does this in two ways. First, it engenders a self-serving bureaucracy whose survival depends on a growing clientele of poor welfare recipients. To end poverty, this bureaucracy would have to put itself out of business, something it will never do. Second, there’s the welfare wall: When a welfare recipient gets a job, the system sharply withdraws benefits and imposes taxes. The result is that the harder he works, the poorer he becomes. He is stuck behind the welfare wall.
Of course, there’s much improvement to be made in Canada’s safety net. His solution to alleviating poverty in Canada is to put the welfare bureaucracy “out of business.” This flies in the face of the available evidence, as countries with stronger social safety nets tend to have lower amounts of poverty. If anything, Canada needs to drastically improve its social safety net, as it benefits us all.
Any worker who has fallen on hard times and received Employment Insurance after losing a job knows this. Anyone who has been to the hospital and not had to pay for healthcare knows this. Pierre Poilievre himself probably even knows this, but he advocates otherwise.
His history proves that he is no friend of the working class.