Pierre Poilievre Wins Conservative Leadership – What’s Next?

Pierre Poilievre (@PierrePoilievre) / TwitterThe Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) has selected its new leader, Ottawa-area MP Pierre Poilievre, in a landslide, first-ballot win.

Poilievre received a convincing 68.15% on the first ballot, with over 284,000 votes cast for him.  Former Progressive Conservative Leader and Quebec Premier Jean Charest finished in second, with 16.07%.  Leslyn Lewis, the MP from Haldimand-Norfolk finished third with 9.69% of the vote, and candidates Roman Baber and MP Scott Aitcheson finished fourth and fifth with 5.03% and 1.06% respectively.

The Conservative Party set a Canadian record attracting over 678,000 members to the party, and 438,000 ballots cast.  In comparison, when Justin Trudeau won the 2013 Liberal leadership race, just over 100,000 ballots were cast, with Trudeau receiving 81,000 first-place votes.

Who Is Pierre Poilievre?

Born and raised in Calgary, Poilievre has served as the Member of Parliament for the Ontario riding of Carleton since 2004.  In his first election, he defeated sitting Liberal Defence Minister David Pratt and has won six subsequent elections.

During the CPC’s time in power, Poilievre served in several roles, including as a Parliamentary Secretary in three portfolios, and as Minister of Democratic Reform, and Minister of Employment and Social Development.

Since the CPC’s return to opposition, Poilievre has served in several critic roles, including most recently as Finance Critic.  He considered a run for the Conservative Leadership in 2020 but withdrew just prior to his planned announcement.

What Does Poilievre’s Win Mean?

Unlike Andrew Scheer’s narrow 2017 victory over Maxime Bernier, tonight’s clear result demonstrates that the Conservative Party is clearly Pierre Poilievre’s party.  While there will no doubt be Conservatives who are disappointed in the result, the vast majority of the Conservative Party Caucus and membership is united behind Poilievre.  Any intra-party opposition to Poilievre’s leadership is likely limited to being outside the Caucus in small pockets that will be difficult to leverage in any meaningful way.

After two Conservative leaders whose tenures were hallmarked by policy and communications missteps, Poilievre’s clear and direct style of messaging, his unapologetic defence of small-c conservative principles, and his willingness to go head-to-head with Liberals both inside and outside of the House of Commons made him the clear choice of Conservative Members of Parliament across the country.

His clear messaging about making Canada the “freest country on earth,” coupled with his constant focus on issues like inflation, cost-of-living, and housing affordability, has also clearly struck a tone with Canadians who feel like they have been left behind by the Liberals in the last few years.

The challenge for Poilievre will be translating “winning the Party” to “winning the country” – a challenge that both Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole could not meet, despite winning the majority of ballots cast in both of those elections (the popular vote) but not the majority of seats.  There is no doubt that Poilievre has started to build a movement, much like Justin Trudeau was able to build a movement under his leadership in the run-up to the 2015 election.  However, his support for the Freedom Convoy, his unabashed promotion of cryptocurrencies as a “hedge against inflation,” and his targeting of the Governor of the Bank of Canada over inflation may cause swing voters in key ridings in Ontario and Quebec to take pause.

The Upcoming Battle

Although they may not like to admit it, Pierre Poilievre and Justin Trudeau are more alike than one might think.

Both are political animals who are energized by the cut and thrust of political debate.  Both were seen at one time as unlikely future leaders of their party.  Both have built political movements around them and not necessarily the party brand.  Both have gone against political conventions that seemed enduring – Trudeau on deficits and Poilievre on open and forceful challenges to the status quo. Both have raised millions of dollars and attracted thousands of Canadians to join their respective parties to support their leadership.

In a sense, Poilievre’s victory will be energizing for both Conservatives and Liberals.  Conservatives clearly believe they have the candidate who can take the political battle to Justin Trudeau and the Liberals between now and the next election.  At the same time, Liberals – and Trudeau in particular – clearly want to do battle with Poilievre and challenge him directly on the more controversial aspects of his leadership campaign, including his support for the Freedom Convoy.

It remains to be seen how effective they will be in the face of Poilievre’s communications abilities.  The Liberals have held back in launching a strategic campaign to define Poilievre during the leadership race, despite his daily attacks on the government.  That approach will have to change as the stakes are now higher.  With Justin Trudeau’s clear statement that he will stay to fight the next election, tonight’s result is the start of the race to the next election.

For political watchers, the next few months will be fascinating as policies are sharpened and campaigns continue for the hearts and minds of the Canadian electorate.