Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) members came out of their convention in Quebec exuberant, and they have good reason to be. Their party is enjoying the widest lead they have seen in the polls since Justin Trudeau became prime minister, and the convention had the feel of a party preparing to form the next government rather than forming a stronger opposition.
CPC Leader Pierre Poilievre has been a member of Parliament for nearly 20 years. He established a reputation as a quick-witted attack dog as a member of the opposition. His consistent needling of Liberal cabinet ministers during question periods in the House and in parliamentary committees kept government members on edge for years. While that style of performative politics was popular among partisan Conservatives, and it helped him comfortably win the leadership of the CPC last year, people wondered if he could win the support of Canadians at large.
Poilievre has been slowly but surely transforming his image since winning the leadership. Some of the change was aesthetic as his glasses disappeared, his hair was more carefully styled, and he appeared to be working out. While such efforts may seem shallow, appearance matters—especially when running against a prime minister who has been applauded more for his looks than his depth.
The more significant change from Poilievre has been in his approach to issues. While opponents ridiculed his constant framing of himself as the next prime minister, he stuck with it and the notion appears to be catching on. Poilievre has pivoted into talking about what a CPC government will do right as opposed to being focused solely on what the Trudeau government has done wrong. He still is offering steady and cutting critique of the Trudeau government, but it isn’t a singular approach.
Polls toward the end of this summer indicate that Poilievre’s strategy is paying off. Not only does support for the Liberal Party appear to have collapsed, but the CPC could be poised to win a majority government. Polls had indicated support was flagging for the Liberals for some time now, but it wasn’t clear if that waning support would instead go to Poilievre. That initial reticence has dwindled as a growing number of voters view Poilievre as an acceptable replacement for Trudeau.
The CPC entered their convention in Quebec buoyed by those numbers, and the optimism among delegates was palpable.
Political conventions can be minefields for parties. Conventions are where the advocacy wings within parties find their voices, and idealism can defeat pragmatism. Momentum built by a party can be crushed by one bad policy resolution or inappropriate statement from a senior party member.
That didn’t happen.
The socially conservative wing of the party must be heard and respected. They are often the worker bees of conservative parties and their support is integral at election time.
A policy resolution was passed to oppose irreversible medical procedures being carried out on children who identify as transgender, and another proposed banning biological men from women’s spaces such as change rooms. While some activists are trying to characterize these as egregious offences against trans people, most Canadians will see them as reasonable compromises in an issue that has become fatiguing.
Further, while policy resolutions make news during conventions, they are often soon forgotten. Party policies are a rough guide for elected members. They are not binding and many never get drafted into bills when a party gets into power.
In a bizarre move, two senior Liberal cabinet ministers crashed the convention and held impromptu press conferences outside the facility. Environment Minister Stephen Guilbeault and Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez made appearances on the steps of the centre to try and steal some thunder from the convention. The move was odd and only managed to make the Liberal party appear fearful or even desperate when they really should be trying to portray strength and confidence.
The next federal election is not expected for two more years. That’s an eternity in politics and no party can afford to become complacent.
Right now though, the CPC has upward momentum and they just held a successful convention. They can’t pop champagne corks and presume a win in the next election, but they have a lot to be happy about right now.
The Liberals will need to find themselves and soon if they hope to turn the tide.