If he doesn’t connect with the truckers who are promising weeks of disruption, he runs the risk of being outed as a non-supporter. If he does stand with the truckers, he runs the counter-risk of facing the ire of citizens in the Ottawa region, including those in his own Ottawa riding, Carleton.
By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on June 27, 2022.
OTTAWA—Pierre Poilievre’s Canada Day celebrations may blow up in his face.
If he doesn’t connect with the truckers who are promising weeks of disruption, he runs the risk of being outed as a non-supporter.
If he does stand with the truckers, he runs the counter-risk of facing the ire of citizens in the Ottawa region, including those in his own Ottawa-area riding, Carleton.
They handed him a healthy plurality in the last election but just last week, Mainstreet Research published some interesting data about how the trucker-Pierre tango was viewed by voters.
Amongst 555 constituents polled by Mainstreet between June 13-14, Poilievre enjoyed a healthy 10 per cent majority over his closest opponent in the last election.
If that same election were held today, Poilievre would still be in the lead, but his margin of victory would shrink by half.
According to respondents, the single biggest factor in their dissatisfaction was Poilievre’s support for the Ottawa convoy blockade.
Forty-nine per cent of those polled said they would be less likely to vote for the Conservatives if the riding representative was Poilievre.
It appears as though the trucker occupation played a huge rule in Poilievre’s fall from electoral grace.
The Mainstreet question was clear: “During the trucker occupation … Pierre Poilievre met with and encouraged the freedom protesters. How has this impacted your opinion of your Member of Parliament?”
Fifty-six per cent of those interviewed said they had a “much less favourable” opinion of Poilievre because of his blockade support. An additional 10 per cent said they had a “somewhat less favourable opinion.”
By contrast, only 15 per cent said they had a “much more favourable” opinion, while three per cent claimed a “somewhat more favourable” opinion.
In the next month, the truckers have vowed to return to Ottawa to disrupt Canada Day and remain in the capital throughout the month of July.
They may be pleased to return to the scene of the crime, but Poilievre and the Conservatives can’t be too thrilled.
So far, Poilievre’s support of the truckers has not made much news beyond the nation’s capital.
It really is an “inside the beltway story.” But inside the beltway is Poilievre’s own constituency, and he could vault to the top of the Tories, only to be spurned by local voters in the next election.
Most party leaders are supported by their constituents. It is only when the party faces dire straits that the leader is defeated. Witness the rejection of Liberal Leader Steven Del Duca in his own riding the recent Ontario election.
But being a representative in the nation’s capital is not the same as other ridings across the country.
There, people do expect you to stare down the Freedom Convoy and support the residents, not vice versa.
Last January and February were brutal times for the 30,000 people who live in Ottawa’s downtown core.
According to a friend who lives there, the only dialogue that happened between truckers and residents was a volley of epithets that started with “f” and ended with “u.”
The city is bracing for the same nastiness next week. And Poilievre has to make up his mind whether he represents his constituents or the freedom convoy, because, if the Mainstreet poll is accurate, it cannot be both.
It remains to be seen whether Poilievre can translate his obvious internal popularity into votes across the broad spectrum of Canadians.
But the early signal from his riding sounds a warning bell.
Swinging so far right may win support within Conservative party circles.
But that swing also alienates the majority of mainstream voters.
With the crash of crypto-currency and the pushback on his view of the governor of the Bank of Canada, Poilievre appears to be resonating within his own party.
His situation is so strong that, not only did Patrick Brown’s co-chair bolt, as referenced in last week’s column, but also Brown’s campaign manager quickly followed Michelle Rempel Garner, abruptly leaving Brown’s campaign to work for her potential Alberta leadership entry. Rempel Garner has since decided not run for the UCP leadership.
Jean Charest continues to insist publicly that “I will win this.” He is pumping up his supporters with audacious declarations of victory. But his own numbers do not appear to back up those words.
Poilievre and Brown membership sales allegedly amount to 75 per cent of the total, so it is tough to see how Charest will win.
Poilievre is definitely ahead.
How he handles the Canada Day convoy will signal much about his capacity to win an election.
Like Icarus, flying too close to the truckers might burn him badly.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.