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Routley: Forging a Compelling Alternative

Pierre Poilievre’s big win suggests he has a united Tory party and an appealing platform

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Sam Routley

Western University

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Pierre Poilievre’s landslide victory as leader of the Conservative Party of Canada not only demonstrates his well-run campaign, but also suggests a newly unified party and an attractive platform.

Poilievre’s win is striking in its consistency and scale. Winning the first-round support of more than two-thirds of Conservative Party members, the candidate won a plurality of votes in 330 of Canada’s 338 federal ridings.

Jean Charest, his closest competitor, ranked a distant second with only 16% of the points in the first round and a plurality of votes in only eight ridings.

Poilievre’s victory, compared to the results of previous contemporary CCP leadership races, was unprecedented in terms of a member-wide voting process.

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Unlike 2017 and 2020, when the winners only came out after several ballots, Poilievre’s victory is reminiscent of Stephen Harper’s leadership victory in 2004 with 69% of the popular vote in the first round. Ultimately, despite perceptions of a sharply divided party, Poilievre’s success suggests those divisions have been overcome.

Much of Poilievre’s success has been due to how well his campaign’s pitch game is organized to spread his message and mobilize supporters. His campaign not only featured a substantial social media presence and well-attended rallies, but also broke records for fundraising and memberships sold. As with the final results, its closest competitors lagged far behind.

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It matters for what it says about the support of current Conservative members and elites. This had been made clear by several mentions, including Harper’s. The former prime minister had not publicly endorsed any candidate in the previous two races.

This helped further legitimize the strength of Poilievre’s appeal and provided further aid to the campaign’s organizational effectiveness.

What explains this widespread success and what does it mean for the future of the Conservative Party? Poilievre’s appeal has not only attracted committed Conservative supporters, it has also generated some excitement among voters without previous Conservative leanings, especially young people.

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Poilievre made a broad and consistent call for leadership that provided a conventionally conservative set of diagnoses and prescriptions for Canada’s pressing problems, legitimizing conservative priorities that include smaller government, economic development, open markets and more freedoms. individual. There was something for many Canadians in his platform.

He also spoke of the desire of many conservative supporters for a more assertive, positive and ideologically aware conservatism. The electoral losses of former Conservative leaders Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole were no doubt partly due to the party’s attempt to present itself as a moderate and “light liberal” choice for voters.

Poilievre, on the other hand, worked to encourage voters to take pride in being conservatives, championing rather than simply defending conservative principles. He provided a real alternative to liberals instead of trying to appeal to voters through moderate messages.

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His victory suggests his strategy worked and the party is unified. That means talk of a centrist conservative movement, perhaps even separate from a party led by Poilievre, was premature.

And given his populism and strong attacks on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Poilievre could bring People’s Party supporters back into the fold, though leader Maxime Bernier will likely continue to challenge the leader’s credentials as a true conservative and has already warned that he will tilt to the left after winning the leadership.

At the same time, although lessened, the divisions in the Conservative party between more traditionalist and libertarian supporters, for example, have not completely disappeared. That will continue to pose a challenge for Poilievre, given the Liberal Party’s historic and ongoing eagerness to capitalize on those divisions.

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Poilievre, however, promotes an overarching policy framework that emphasizes the similarities among all conservatives.

An additional strength of Poilievre, evidenced by his membership recruitment, is that his message is also broad enough to address common grievances about the current Liberal government and economic discontent surrounding housing affordability, inflation and government regulations.

Some conservatives’ opposition to COVID-19 mandates and cancel culture also likely played a role in its success.

Poilievre’s victory speech hinted that his attacks on the ‘Guardians’ will persist, but it’s unclear if there will be other mentions of popular issues among right-wing Canadians, such as his support for the so-called convoy freedom that paralyzed Ottawa earlier this year, his attacks on the World Economic Forum and his advocacy for cryptocurrency.

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Poilievre frequently delved into these issues during the campaign trail, but his acceptance speech suggests he’s shifted to a more general message that targets everyday Canadians who aren’t necessarily traditional Conservative voters.

Instead, by focusing on issues that concern ordinary Canadians alongside effective campaign organizing, Poilievre could offer a compelling alternative to Trudeau’s increasingly unpopular Liberals.

The conversation

Sam Routley is a PhD candidate in political science at Western University.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.

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