Poilievre’s curt response to Navalny’s death raises eyebrows

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Poilievre’s recent weak reactions have some people wondering whether he is really ready for prime time.

By Sheila Copps
First published in The Hill Times on February 26, 2024.

OTTAWA—Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is usually not one to mince words. Why say something in a minute when you can do it in 15, and have your social viewing audience grow exponentially?

That’s why Ottawa was abuzz last week with his curt reference to the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. While most world leaders were fulsome in their condemnation of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s role in the sudden death of his fiercest critic, two North American politicians were parsing their post-mortem comments.

Poilievre claims he has nothing in common with former U.S. president Donald Trump, but the pair were the only voices that failed to condemn Putin absolutely in the imprisonment and death of Navalny.

The following was Poilievre’s statement: “Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has died in prison. Putin imprisoned Navalny for the act of opposing the regime. Conservatives condemn Putin for his death.”

“Brief” is the only way to describe Poilievre’s reaction which was posted on X.

Compare that to the reaction of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In a post on the same site, Trudeau said: “Reports of Alexei Navalny’s death are tragic and horrifying. An unwavering advocate for Russian democracy and freedom, his courage was unparalleled. To be clear: He should never have been imprisoned to begin with. Let this be an important reminder that we must continue to promote, protect, and defend democracy everywhere. The consequences of not doing so are stark. I’m sending my deepest condolences to Alexei Navalny’s family—and to all those around the world who had championed his pursuit of justice. Canada remains committed to holding Putin responsible for his actions.”

Trudeau continued to condemn Putin in multiple media interviews, while the Poilievre family’s main social presence was selling T-shirts following a dust up in the House of Commons where the opposition leader posed a question using the initials “W.T.F.” To Poilievre, it supposedly means “where’s the funds.”

Ignoring the bad grammar, Poilievre’s spouse, Anaida, was flogging the shirts in social media at the same time the world’s focus was on the aftermath of Navalny’s death, and the horrific arrests of Russian mourners.

Trump was also busier shilling than condemning in the days following Navalny’s death. As for the Russian opposition leader, Trump found a way to compare his death to Trump’s own domestic troubles. In a Fox media interview, this is how he framed the situation: “It’s happening in our country, too. We are turning into a communist country in many ways. And if you look at it, I’m the leading candidate, I got indicted … I got indicted four times. I have eight or nine trials … all because of the fact that I’m in politics.”

Trump then pivoted quickly announce the launch of his new US$400 golden running shoes at “Sneaker Con” in Philadelphia. Along with the shoes, Trump introduced a line of cologne, entitled “Victory.” The runners were launched the day after a civil fraud trial judgement where Trump was ordered to pay out $350-million in interest and damages.

Both politicians were notoriously quiet following Navalny’s death, even when his widow was publicly calling on the world to seek justice for her late husband.

Three days after her husband died, Yulia Navalnaya vowed to continue his fight. “In killing Alexei, Putin killed half of me, half of my heart and half of my soul,” Navalnaya said on social media. “But I have another half left—and it is telling me I have no right to give up.”

While Navalnaya vows to continue her husband’s brave battle in opposition to Putin, Ukraine passed the two-year anniversary last week of its unwavering response to Putin’s illegal attack.

Once again, Trump and Poilievre share the same vision. With Trump’s blessing, Republicans have been blocking or reducing war funding for Ukraine, just as Poilievre voted against Canadian funding in the House of Commons.

Conservatives in Canada keep saying they have nothing in common with Trump, but the actions of both men in the past week seem to mirror each other.

Poilievre may think that most Canadians vote on pocketbook issues, not foreign policy. But 1.2 million Ukrainian-Canadians are not happy with his refusal to support Canadian funding for Ukraine.

Strangely, then the leader of the opposition came out against proposed legislation to limit internet hate speech before reading it. Instead, he reminded us of Trudeau’s blackface history.

Poilievre’s recent weak reactions have some people wondering whether he is really ready for prime time.

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