In the aftermath of Saturday’s decisive Conservative Party leadership victory by Pierre Poilievre, Counsel brings you analysis from two of our Senior Vice Presidents. First, John Delacourt shares his views on Poilievre’s victory speech. Then, Michael Ras reflects on what Poilievre’s victory says about the modern Conservative party.


John Delacourt

Throughout the Conservative leadership campaign, the counterargument to Pierre Poilievre’s bid to lead the party was that, by choosing a firebrand over a more moderate, centrist candidate like Jean Charest, Conservatives were opting for the most effective Opposition voice in caucus rather than a “statesman-like” unifier and consensus builder. To lead the Conservative party is one thing; to lead the country is quite another.

With Poilievre’s victory long-predicted – and resoundingly confirmed on Saturday night – the speech he delivered signaled the direction the Conservatives will take under his leadership. Conservative members and political watchers alike wondered: Would his tone be reflective of a rabid partisan, doubling down on some of the more populist, anti-government tropes that animated his base of support across Canada? Or conversely, would Poilievre blunt the edge of his own bold positioning and, as some of his supporters feared, “pivot” to the center, with a more moderate platform that might appeal to swing voters? Finding balance seems to be an impossible task: to appeal to the political center while rallying the base for a campaign call that could come much sooner than the expiry of the Liberal-NDP confidence and supply agreement in 2025.

If Saturday’s victory speech is any indication, Poilievre may have found the right balance. If you agree that trust has eroded in government and its institutions since Justin Trudeau was elected in 2015, and if the beleaguered middle-class voter feels they’ve lost rather than gained ground over the last few years, then Poilievre’s message could gather momentum with Canadians. If pessimism about the overall economic outlook continues to grow and Trudeau’s Liberals sound increasingly remote, or worse, condescending about the day-to-day affordability concerns of its voters, then all bets are off on this minority government’s survivability. Poilievre’s victory speech left most observers with the sense that, given the temper of the times, he may have the message many are looking for.

It would be inaccurate to suggest that Poilievre did not pivot to some degree. Absent from his remarks was any mention of cryptocurrency, or any call for firing the Governor of the Bank of Canada. The public broadcaster did not come in for any harsh words either – which was probably wise, given that many Canadians were giving the new Conservative Leader their first serious hearing on CBC. There was no veiled reference to the World Economic Forum either. The only red meat in the speech was a brief swipe at the ArriveCan app and vaccine mandates.

Poilievre is likely aware that, by omitting these more provocative aspects of his campaign stump speech, he is exposing a strategic vulnerability; Trudeau’s War Room will get some traction replaying the video evidence of what they’ll frame as “the real Pierre Poilievre.” This is a risk he is willing to take.

The surprise of the evening was the opening remarks of Poilievre’s wife, Anaida Poilievre, who deftly wove in the immigrant narrative of how the first generation’s struggles in Canada laid the foundations for the next generation’s aspirations – and how her husband’s vision for the country’s economic future was theirs as well. Amid speculation about how new Canadians will respond to Poilievre in the next campaign, perhaps too little attention was paid to his strongest advocate, right by his side.

When Poilievre took to the podium, it did not take him long to deliver his most effective sound bite of the evening – one Liberals should take seriously: “Canadians don’t need a government to run their lives; they need a government that can run a passport office.” This is the kind of quick, stinging take Poilievre is particularly talented at delivering, and it’s likely he’ll have many more on hand in the House over the next few months, with his best rhetorical flair saved for his debates against Trudeau.

The core of Poilievre’s speech focused on pocketbook issues impacting Canadians feeling the squeeze of a higher cost of living. He painted a grim picture of Canadians who struggle to pay for gas and home heating, who have delayed their retirement, who can’t afford to own a home, and who suffer from a poorer diet due to the high cost of groceries.

He gave a glimpse of the solutions a Conservative government would offer to rectify this state of affairs: reforms to middle-class tax brackets; threatening to withhold federal infrastructure funds from cities that block affordable housing; replacing “dictator oil” with offshore oil; greenlighting critical mineral mining projects; speeding up foreign credential recognition; and “fighting climate change with technology, not taxes.” Poilievre has provided little detail about his policy positions – but what he has put forth, such as his commitment to scrap carbon pricing, will now face scrutiny from both the government and the parliamentary press gallery.

Many Liberal organizers breathed a sigh of relief that Charest lost on Saturday, given his moderate stance and support among caucus in Quebec. However, the Liberals underestimate Poilievre at their peril, as he is a skilled and engaging communicator. With Trudeau’s announcement to the Liberal cabinet that he is staying on to fight the next election, the stage is now set for an epic contrast of visions that will also plumb the depths of negative campaigning. When Parliament returns on October 20, all eyes will be on the new Leader of His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. Let the games begin.


Michael Ras

The Conservative Leadership race that concluded this past weekend was a battle of philosophies on the best path to victory in the next election. Day-to-day, the media stories may have been about different policies and campaign tactics, but at its core, any leadership race is all about convincing members that your vision, policy and approach is the one that will win the next election. 

Three core philosophies were on offer in this campaign: 1. An appeal to Liberal/CPC switchers; 2. A strategy to mobilize and consolidate the right-wing; and 3. An appeal to new/disengaged/disaffected Canadians to grow the pool of potential voters.

The first path – appealing to CPC/Liberal switchers – was embodied by the campaigns of Jean Charest and Scott Aitchison, and when he was in the race, Patrick Brown, who all sought to appeal to the party membership, especially in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and the Greater Toronto Area with a platform, approach and philosophy that would make CPC/Liberal swing voters comfortable. Their message was mainstream, fiscally conservative, focused on law & order and national unity. They offered a platform and approach that would rely heavily on securing votes from visible-minority and ethno-cultural communities, especially in the suburbs of Toronto, who are typically Liberal voters.

The second path – mobilizing and motivating the Conservative base – is embodied by the campaigns of Leslyn Lewis and Roman Baber, who had targeted their appeals to social conservatives and libertarians.  These factions of the party have traditionally made up around 20-30% of the CPC membership, but never more than that. Lewis and Baber contended that there is an untapped vein of Conservative-leaning voters, particularly in religious minority communities, who will come out in greater numbers if properly motivated. This may be true during a leadership race, but the evidence suggests a large portion of Canadians look at the social conservative and libertarian wing of the Conservative Party warily and believe they will impose their will on the majority. If anything, fear of the influence of these philosophies in the party drive a lot of CPC/Liberal switchers right back to the Liberals every election. 

The third path – focused on growing the voter pool – was embodied by the campaign of Pierre Poilievre. His electoral philosophy indicates his belief is that the greatest area of potential growth is in the roughly 35% of eligible voters who don’t normally vote or who might have registered an occasional protest vote with the PPC, or even the Green Party or NDP. These are voters who are disaffected and disconnected from the Toronto/Ottawa/Montreal power corridor. They believe that none of the parties are speaking for them – especially not the governing Liberals. 

Polls show that Canadian attitudes are roughly divided into three camps: One third are people doing well and prospering; one third are treading water; one third feel they are falling behind. It is this final third where Pierre Poilievre is finding a rich vein of new CPC members and, he hopes, new voters in the general election. These voters come from a variety of backgrounds and demographics. They are younger voters who cannot afford to buy a home; immigrants who cannot transfer their professional credentials to Canada and get work in their field; gig workers who were forced to take 2 or 3 part-time jobs during the pandemic to make up for the lost jobs caused by lockdowns; energy workers who feel their livelihoods are being pulled out from beneath them by government officials negotiating climate treaties in far-off countries a long way from Fort McMurray. Despite different circumstances, these individuals share the same feelings of seeing their dreams and ability to provide for their families dashed by the decisions of a distant government. 

Some of these disaffected, disconnected voters turned to the spontaneous protests embodied by the “Trucker convoy.” Some fell into the belief that cryptocurrency was a way to take back some economic control (and it didn’t hurt that crypto prices only seemed to move in one direction until recently). Some have gone down online rabbit holes – adhering to conspiracy theories like the World Economic Forum managing a great “reset” of the economy. While a common denominator is a feeling of being left behind, another common trait is a propensity to consume a lot of social media.

This is where Pierre Poilievre chose to fish for new memberships. He used his extremely effective social media and communication skills to motivate new voters – growing the Conservative Party’s ranks by at least 300,000 new members. But he is not only connecting with disaffected voters; more mainstream Conservatives are also energized by a candidate that communicates so clearly strongly and persuasively.  Poilievre’s victory speech Saturday night reinforced this with a lot of Conservative Party members, who all came away from that performance impressed with how he hit all the right notes, especially on economic policy. Taken together, with support from new members and the existing base who mostly harken back to the leadership of Stephen Harper, Poilievre was elected leader with an overwhelming majority and now has firm control of the Conservative Party of Canada.

There are two key takeaways from Poilievre’s victory. First, the party membership has overwhelmingly chosen the path of “growing the party by appealing to non-voters.” Second, this membership is extremely motivated, vocal and will broach no compromise. They will not tolerate moderation of the tone or message. They will not allow the party’s new leadership to break its promises, and they will not seek out policies that appeal to moderate “Liberal/CPC switchers.” It is Pierre Poilievre’s party now, and his supporters will not compromise. 

What does this mean in practical terms? Depending on where one stands, Pierre Poilievre’s party can actually be seen as quite mainstream, at least in the spectrum of other “right-wing” or conservative parties around the world. Mr. Poilievre is pro-choice on abortion, in favour of gay rights, supports expanded immigration to Canada, and has a healthy regard for our democratic institutions, especially Parliament – which contrasts strongly with many Republicans to our immediate south as well as right-wing parties in Europe. In the leadership race, one could argue that Poilievre was the centrist. 

In the context of the general election, there is no doubt that Poilievre is staking out territory to the right, but the centre and centre right is up for grabs, as this ideological territory has been largely abandoned by Justin Trudeau and the Liberals. In other words, Poilievre has a lot of room to maneuver and can pick and choose – issue by issue – whether he puts forward a right-wing or a centrist position. No matter what, he’ll be to the right of Trudeau and for most of his supporters, that’s good enough. 

Going forward, we expect Pierre Poilievre to borrow more heavily from the playbook of Doug Ford – especially around policies that appeal to blue-collar workers – and steer away from social conservative or hard-right policies. For example, we expect he will emphasize an energy policy that promotes the export of Canadian energy, especially natural gas, to displace dirtier and politically-compromised fuel sources from Russia and other international pariahs. 

The most important thing to listen for, however, will be early statements from Poilievre, and especially his tone. Will he strike a conciliatory tone? Not likely – for all the reasons noted above. But we expect he will find ways to reach out and unify the party under his leadership and vision. Especially important for Poilievre will be his efforts to unify the Quebec caucus, which mostly backed Jean Charest. Can he pull them into the tent? It will be critical for his future success that he does.

On Saturday night, Poilievre set out the first overtures to Charest and the Quebec wing by speaking well of Charest and his commitment to Canada and pointing out to Quebec voters that he has a deep affinity to the francophone community. He even pointed out that his children are being educated in French. So far, indications are that the Quebec caucus and supporters will rally to the flag and support Poilievre. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that he nearly doubled the votes of Charest in his backyard and home province. 

The most unifying message any party leader can put out is a message of winning. On this front, watch for Poilievre and his key advisors to stress how their outreach across Canada will put dozens of Liberal, NDP and Bloc held seats in play. You’ll hear predictions like: “The CPC will win back the 905 and break-through in Toronto” and, “For the first time ever, Timmins is in play” (for reference, Timmins has been an NDP stronghold since 2004 and has never elected a Conservative in history), and “we’ll triple our seats in Atlantic Canada.” If true, then the electoral map will indeed look very different after the next election. 

Time will tell – but for now, it’s Pierre Poilievre’s party and the political landscape in Canada will never be the same.