Poilievre paints a grim picture

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For the moment, Pierre Poilievre does not need to offer any solutions. But simply playing the role of the grumpy old man will not likely attract new supporters to his effort. A winner is always positive.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on November 14, 2022.

OTTAWA—Groundhog Day for Pierre Poilievre was not a happy one.

After several weeks in a news hole, Poilievre finally decided to come out of his hiding place and held a presser in Vancouver.

Of course, it would not be in Ottawa.

Any journalism student 101 knows that when leaders get off the Hill, questions are softer and more friendly than what they can expect with the national press gallery.

So, there weren’t too many tough questions about why Poilievre went into hiding immediately after securing his leadership in a romp.

But his message seemed strangely like the one which secured him the leadership.

The country is in a mess and only he can fix it.

“It feels like everything is broken in this country right now.”

Poilievre even blamed a “300 per cent increase in opioid use in Vancouver” on the prime minister.

When criticized for lack of media availability, Poilievre became combative. He accused a Radio-Canada journalist of getting his facts wrong when the reporter said Poilievre had not had a press conference in 60 days.

He decried the claim that he did not want to meet with the media and expressed interest in speaking to reporters across the country.

But he had no time for those on Parliament Hill whom he accused of trying to control the message.

It is obvious that Poilievre is not in love with the media. It is also obvious that he thinks by limiting access to reporters in Ottawa, he will be able to shape a more positive message across the country.

But the negative messaging at his first major presser was a bad start.

By assuming everything in Canada is broken, Poilievre will certainly secure the support of those Canadians who helped his rise to power.

He continues to defend the illegal Freedom Convoy and believes that under the current government, nothing in Canada is working very well.

In order to broaden his brand, Poilievre needs to reach out to people who still believe there is something good about the country.

Most Canadians are feeling the pain of inflation. But they also do not live in a vacuum and realize that the inflationary pressures they are experiencing are being felt around the world.

In last week’s American congressional and gubernatorial races, inflation was top of mind with almost all voters, according to exit polls in multiple states.

It even beat out the question of abortion where state referendums resoundingly reaffirmed the right for women to decide whether or not they carry a fetus to term.

But even with the pocketbook issue of inflation dogging almost every state race, the Republicans were not able to make the major gains that had been predicted.

Instead, U.S. President Joe Biden surprised everyone by beating all his predecessors on midterm numbers.

That tells me that voters do not always blame a global problem on a national leader.

The same could hold true for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the inflationary situation that the country is facing.

Poilievre is obviously banking on the fact that inflation will be seen as a national problem.

He was the first to raise the issue, even when it appeared to be a temporary problem, and he has even paraphrased Trudeau’s moniker to include Justinflation.

That turn of phrase seeks to link the prime minister and the government with the problem of inflation.

But if it is deemed to be worldwide, and the country’s job numbers continue to flourish, the Liberals may be able to dodge the bullet.

Poilievre doesn’t think so. But he also needs to be careful that his appeal to the negative side of the human spirit may not set him up for the job of prime minister.

Trudeau came into office in 2015 promising sunny ways. Some may rightfully argue that those sunny ways have not fully materialized. In the current economic uncertainty, it looks like the country could soon be raining recession.

Poilievre has decided to paint a grim picture, with the promise that his proposed government cuts will make things better.

However, as he gets closer to the actual election, he will have to clarify what he intends to cut.

With low-cost childcare and accessible dental plans, a cut to either of those programs might not help his electability.

For the moment, he does not need to offer any solutions. But simply playing the role of the grumpy old man will not likely attract new supporters to his effort.

A winner is always positive.

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