Most commentators ignored the paucity of diversity on his team. But for those of us who care about these issues, the photo was a stark visual reminder that in Poilievre’s party, it is still a man’s world.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on September 19, 2022.
OTTAWA—Will Rogers said you never get a second chance to make a first impression. Pierre Poilievre must not have been listening.
If so, his first week as leader could have been a winner.
On the evening of his coronation, even with regal funereal news competition from across the pond, Poilievre knocked it out of the park.
His spouse’s introduction placed the new leader exactly where he needs to be, a happy family man whose soft edges are inclusive.
His embrace of personal diversity, including his own family story, were certainly not aligned with the narrative he had used to steamroll his way into the win.
The party endorsement was overwhelming. Two-thirds of the vote went to him, while former premier Jean Charest was reduced to the teens.
Poilievre’s opening performance seemed to indicate that he was prepared to pivot. Having convinced the vast majority of fellow Conservatives that he was their man, his job is now to convince the country.
The acceptance speech got a lot of Liberals worried. Several former cabinet colleagues were gathered at a Toronto symposium on foreign policy the same weekend.
The group’s consensus was that the government would be foolish to assume that Poilievre could not win an election.
The good news for Liberals is that most people do not tune in to party conventions.
And the softer side of the new leader was immediately disposed of at his first post-leader press conference.
After opening the presser with a refusal to take questions, Poilievre was heckled by Global News reporter David Akin, who insistently raised his voice to ensure a question period.
Poilievre accused Akin of being a Liberal plant, set up to heckle him on his first day.
His tone was crisp and angry. That was the first impression he left with those who were seeing the Conservative leader for the first time.
Akin, hardly a Liberal troll, was immediately attacked by Tories heeding Poilievre’s call to “go around” the media.
Later that day, Akin posted a Twitter apology, characterizing his outburst as “rude and disrespectful.”
But that did not stop the Tories from using the incident as a fundraiser.
Within 48 hours, Poilievre’s team sent out a fundraising email, claiming the party could not count on the media to carry their message, saying, “we have to go around them and their biased coverage.”
He also reiterated his promise to defund the CBC.
Poilievre has obviously decided that his best path to victory is in bypassing the media, mobilizing followers to use social channels and attack the messenger.
In the Akin instance that worked, as the apology actually set up the narrative of an aggrieved party that cannot count on reporters to tell the truth.
But Poilievre tried the same tactic in French and he got his clock cleaned.
This mistake will prove a lot more damaging than Poilievre’s decision to bypass the mainstream media in English.
When former Quebec lieutenant Alain Rayes announced he was leaving the party because Poilievre’s leadership was incompatible with his values, Tory trollers were whipped into high gear.
Instead of adopting a conciliatory tone which could have downplayed the departure, the leader came out with fists swinging.
He accused Rayes of refusing to fight Justin Trudeau’s inflation and went on to claim that he had the support of the majority in Rayes’ riding as 53 per cent of the 663 Tory ballots cast there were for Poilievre.
That may be the only time Poilievre gets a majority in Quebec.
His thrashing of a native son did not play well, and his next move was career-shortening.
The leader sent a message to electors in Rayes’ riding, asking them to phone the office of their Member of Parliament to demand his resignation.
When that news became public, the backlash was so horrendous that Poilievre became the one doing the apologizing.
Two apologies in a week marked Poilievre’s public foray as leader.
The announcement of his leadership team, complete with a photo on the steps of the West Block, was also a step backward.
In a team of 10, Poilievre only managed to include two women and one racialized Canadian.
Compare that to the equity cabinet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It makes one wonder if the Tories are going back to the future.
Most commentators ignored the paucity of diversity on his team.
But for those of us who care about these issues, the photo was a stark visual reminder that in Poilievre’s party, it is still a man’s world.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.