Has Poilievre peaked too soon?

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Thanks to their agreement with the New Democratic Party, the Liberals now have a year to aggressively sell its vision to Canadians. And that doesn’t involve an axe-the-tax. 

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on April 8, 2024.

OTTAWA–I woke up to a news item last week that said Liberals had experienced a big spike in national popularity while the Greens and the Bloc were on the uptick.

Hardly believable, but in the world of politics, you are on a roller coaster. And six months is about the time-frame for either a dip or rise in popularity.

Then I had a coffee and realized it was April Fool’s Day. I was the fool. Because for a brief second, I thought Liberals’ flagging fortunes had turned around.

Both the Liberal and Conservative leaders seem to be in campaign mode.

Whether it’s an orthodox synagogue in Montréal, or a rally in Newfoundland or British Columbia, Pierre Poilievre is everywhere. And on his ‘Axe the Tax’ campaign, he really seems to be enjoying himself.

Finally, it looks as though the prime minister is also moving into campaign mode.

In a series of pre-budget announcement, Justin Trudeau and some of his key ministers have peppered the country with funding and programs.

From children’s school lunch funding, to a renters’ bill of rights, to carbon pricing, the governing party has finally realized that in government, you can control the agenda.

And they are definitely shaping a narrative that could play in their favour in the next election.

Poilievre is focusing on individual pocketbook issues. By pushing his anti-tax view, he is sending the message that under a Poilievre government, there would be cuts in government spending that would end up in your wallet.

He may be on to something. As altruistic as we would like to think ourselves to be, Canadians usually vote for what is in their personal self-interest.

Up until last week, not too many Canadians actually knew that 80 per cent of the population will receive a carbon rebate which exceeds the additional cost of the pricing program.

The frenetic pace Poilievre was keeping climaxed on April 1 when the new pricing regime went into effect.

He pulled out all the stops, including engaging oil-producing provincial premiers in a fight to roll back the carbon price increase.

But by associating so closely with leaders like Danielle Smith and Doug Ford, who are not universally admired across the country, he may be digging himself a petroleum hole from which he cannot get out.

Smith was hard-pressed to explain why, on the same day she was trashing carbon pricing, her government was hiking Alberta’s gas tax by a total of 13 cents a litre. Her supporters defended the hike, saying the money would be used to build roads and infrastructure, not to reduce carbon emissions.

When you compare the building of roads to the fight against global warming, which is more critical to our survival?

The younger generation—or NexGen as they are euphemistically known—consider global warming the challenge of our times.

Poilievre has been successful in attracting young voters on the basis that his policies will make housing and daily essentials more affordable.

Just like Trudeau rode the marijuana wave to victory in his first election in 2015, Poilievre hopes to ride the affordability train.

But on global warming, he has been strangely silent. His communications people say that the Conservative plan to fight climate change will come out when an election is called. That will be too late. By then, his image as a petro-politician will have solidified.

That will help in Alberta, but he certainly won’t become prime minister on the basis of that province alone.

His anti-environmental positions do not play well in Quebec or British Columbia, both provinces which were critical in getting the Liberals over the line in the last election.

Because Poilievre’s political message has been so tightly identified with carbon pricing, it will be hard for him to build any credibility on global warming.

His axe will also be used to cut government spending. But where will he start? Will he cancel dental benefits, pharmacare, or $10-a-day childcare? Something has to go.

The Axe-the-Tax campaign has finally created an opening for Liberals to start talking about what they have achieved, and asking the pertinent question: what will Poilievre axe?

Thanks to their agreement with the New Democratic Party, the Liberals now have a year to aggressively sell its vision to Canadians. And that doesn’t involve an axe-the-tax.

With April 1 come and gone, if the sky doesn’t fall, Poilievre could be left looking like Chicken Little.

A campaign that promotes dental care, pharmacare, rental rights, and daycare sound a lot more interesting than one involving an axe.

Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.