As a lifelong Conservative and son of Alberta who was born in Calgary just as the National Energy Program was being created, there are probably few politicians Pierre Poilievre dislikes more than Pierre Trudeau. It’s ironic, then, that he appears to be following a similar path as the former Liberal prime minister.
In the early months of 1968, the phenomenon that would later be known as “Trudeaumania” swept across Canada’s political landscape with a force and fury that few thought possible at the time. Now, more than 50 years later, Poilievre is threatening to pull off a similar feat.
Canada may not be ready for “Poilievremania” just yet, but the massive crowds showing up to his rallies are a clear sign the Conservative Party of Canada is embracing him with a similar degree of enthusiasm.
The parallels don’t stop there, either. Poilievre’s energy policy, which revolves around ideas like banning oil imports from countries like Russia and building new pipelines to the east (all under the banner of patriotic Canadian energy), is a thinly veiled repackaging of Trudeau’s National Energy Program. His obsession with freedom, meanwhile, is an echo of Trudeau’s long-standing effort to promote and protect individual rights, one that concluded with the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
But while Pierre Trudeau’s appeal to Liberals was due in part to his command and understanding of complex issues, the love affair Conservatives are having with Poilievre seems informed by his willingness to reduce complexities down to their most basic element.
And where Trudeau saw the pursuit of greater rights and freedoms as part of a broader nation-building project, one that would protect citizens from any infringements on their civil liberties by other levels of government, Poilievre seems to see them as a shield protecting people from any sense of shared social responsibility.
It’s why Poilievre has stood up for the rights of an anti-democracy convoy instead of our elected government. It’s why he’s spoken on behalf of those who won’t wear masks or get vaccinated rather than the millions of people who have. His uncompromising notion of liberty is a distinctly American one, and it ignores the reality that our Constitution — indeed, Section 1 of the charter — says certain rights can be limited to protect the rights of others.
Time and again, he has said he wants to “make Canada the world’s freest country.” But what does that actually mean?
According to Freedom House, an American organization founded in 1941 and dedicated to the promotion of democracy, freedom and the rule of law, Canada is already one of the freest countries on Earth. It ranks fifth on the organization’s ranking of the world’s freest countries with a score of 98, behind only Norway, Finland, Sweden and New Zealand, and well ahead of places like the United Kingdom (93) and the United States (83).
What Poilievre seems to mean is that Canada isn’t free enough for the anti-maskers, anti-vaxxers and the rest of the petulant pandemic protesters who gathered in Ottawa in January. But their freedoms don’t automatically supersede those of the millions of Canadians who have tried to look out for their fellow citizens, and their refusal to follow the rules doesn’t make Canada a less free country. It’s the existence of rules, in many respects, that undergirds our most important freedoms of all.
Opinion: Canada may not be ready for “Poilievremania” just yet, but the massive crowds showing up to his rallies are a clear sign the Conservative Party of Canada is embracing him with a similar degree of enthusiasm, writes columnist @maxfawcett.
The parts of the world that have embraced Poilievre’s version of freedom haven’t exactly thrived in recent years, either. Whether it’s Florida or North Dakota, the libertarian ideology Poilievre ascribes to has been a death sentence for many thousands of people in places where the rights of vaccine skeptics and anti-maskers have been prioritized above the health of the broader public. According to Pew Research, death rates in the most pro-Trump counties in America were four times higher than those in the most pro-Biden ones during the fourth wave of the pandemic.
It’s unlikely anyone in the Conservative Party of Canada can stop Poilievre at this point. But if Justin Trudeau’s Liberals want to prevent him from winning the election in 2025, they need to do a better job of pushing back against the freedom-oriented narrative he’s building.
Canada is already a free country, one of the freest in the world, and those freedoms are guaranteed by a document Pierre Trudeau gave us nearly 40 years ago.
If they want to prevent Poilievre from following in Trudeau’s footsteps, they need to start talking more about what freedom really means in Canada — and why his version doesn’t belong here.