In the three Conservative leadership races and nearly seven years that have transpired since Stephen Harper took his drubbing in the 2015 election, the prevailing formula for those trying to replace him has been the same: campaign on the right to win the leadership, then pivot to the centre in time for the general election.

Both Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole tried this approach, and it took them within spitting distance of forming government. But Scheer couldn’t quite sell the pivot, and O’Toole pivoted so abruptly that he ended up bleeding support from his “true blue” backers to the People’s Party.

For months now, political watchers have been trying to figure out exactly when and how Pierre Poilievre will start making a similar move. Could he even manage that pivot back to the middle after he’d embraced the “Freedom Convoy” and traded in conspiracy theories about the World Economic Forum?

The answer, as is now becoming abundantly clear, is that he never intended to even try. Instead of trying to win over current Liberal voters or Red Tories, his campaign is building a new kind of conservative coalition — one that bridges the right with younger voters on the far left.

This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. As Eoin Higgins wrote in The Atlantic last year, there’s a significant population of anti-vaxxers on the political left — ones who might be attracted to Poilievre’s pro-freedom, anti-mandate message. “These crunchy anti-vaxxers are coalescing into a loose political group that is targeting COVID health measures and restrictions as indicative of governmental overreach and medical tyranny,” he wrote. “They’re also, predictably, falling down far-right rabbit holes.”

Deliberately or not, Poilievre’s campaign is drawing on something called the Horseshoe Theory, which suggests the extreme left and right aren’t actually at opposite ends of a linear spectrum but instead bend towards each other at their extremes. After two years of a pandemic, one that has weakened trust in government institutions and expertise on both the right and the left, it might be the perfect time to test that theory.

The most recent results of a regular Abacus Data poll back that up. It showed an 11-point swing in Conservative Party of Canada support among 18- to 29-year-old voters, with most of that change coming at the expense of Jagmeet Singh’s NDP. While the party dropped from 31 per cent support in that demographic back in January to just 21 per cent in July, the CPC surged from 20 to 31 per cent (support for the Liberals only dropped a single point to 29 per cent).

This could be statistical noise, that rare outlier poll that crops up roughly once in every 20 times. But it’s far more likely that Poilievre’s relentless messaging about economic freedom and opportunity — and particularly his line of attack on housing prices and the people allegedly responsible for them — is resonating with a generation that feels like it can’t catch a break.

Partial credit for this unexpected political realignment belongs to Singh, whose own willingness to trade in populist rhetoric seems to be backfiring. Like Poilievre, he’s been talking a lot about inflation lately, and like Poilievre, he’s more than happy to blame “elites” for it. “Ottawa elites are enraged by the NDP proposal to send inflation relief to struggling families, but silent when billions in corporate welfare are handed out,” Singh tweeted recently.

But this is like trying to bring people to a party someone else has been hosting. Poilievre owns the inflation issue, and he’s been hammering harder and more effectively on the cost-of-living concerns that more Canadians are feeling lately than the NDP, which is theoretically supposed to be the party representing working class and lower-income voters. As the National Post’s Sabrina Maddeaux wrote in a recent column, the Poilievre camp is “stealing left-wing populists from an NDP more interested in performative social justice than real economic justice. When it comes to winning over younger generations — who now make up the largest share of potential voters — this may just be the ticket to 24 Sussex.”

Opinion: One thing should be abundantly clear by now: Pierre Poilievre is playing to win, and he’s not to be taken lightly, writes columnist @maxfawcett for @NatObserver

If there’s one thing about young voters, though, it’s that it can be difficult to get them to actually show up and vote — just ask the federal NDP. There are no guarantees Poilievre’s horseshoe strategy will continue to pay dividends as COVID-19’s most onerous restrictions move further into our collective rear view, or that progressive politicians can’t win those young voters back.

But one thing should be abundantly clear by now: Pierre Poilievre is playing to win, and he may have found a new way to do it.

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Just to be clear, in terms of substance the "horseshoe theory" is a pernicious myth.
The right, even the "populist" right, no matter how much it natters about "elites", is in fact elite through and through, and entirely dedicated to giving more money and power to those with the most. There are two reasons economically left wing types can end up voting for the "populist" right: First, attachment to unpleasant right wing social agendas, such as racist, anti-gay or religion-oriented pitches. Second, populist right wingers lie. A lot. They promise the moon, then do policies that take away what little people had.

Mind you, it doesn't help when the left is gutless.

Hate to say it, but young progressives who fall for Poilievre's line are either politically naïve, uneducated, or simply not paying attention.
Either that, or pocketbook issues have trumped progressive issues, like climate, indigenous rights, and social justice.

Poilievre and rightwing mentors like Stephen Harper do not have a progressive hair on their shellacked corporate bobbleheads.
Jagmeet Singh is a nice guy, but uninspiring. Instead of challenging the Liberals, he signed a confidence-and-supply agreement with them, and now stands in Trudeau's shadow.
Singh's silence on climate and environment is disappointing. He is not connecting with Canadians.

Maddeaux: "When it comes to winning over younger generations — who now make up the largest share of potential voters — this may just be the ticket to 24 Sussex.”

Younger generations do not make up the largest share of potential voters — certainly not the largest share of actual voters.
There are 11.7 million potential voters under 40, and 19.7 million over 40.
In recent federal elections, just two thirds of voters 18 to 24 years turn out. Over 80% of voters 55 and older turn out.
"Voter turnout rates by age group, province and immigrant status, 2011, 2015, 2019 and 2021 federal elections"
https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/220216/t001d-eng.htm

Like "do not have a progressive hair on their shellacked corporate bobbleheads."
As far as the younger people falling for Boilievre, their grievances are certainly valid and more existential than they have ever been, and the cons DO excel at stoking grievance. And even though they really don't have much of a track record for connecting with younger people at all, trying to do so now could also make them actually look "new" and "fresh" (?!) a possible game-changer for the dangerous low-information voters.
Agree about Jagmeet not showing up much, but his move to eschew the horse race and cult of personality everyone seems to want in favor of a much-needed bulwark of time with incipient strength in numbers more than makes up for that, showing maturity and real leadership.

There are three years to the next election. Singh doesn't need to campaign right now. They should all be governing. Pierre is campaigning for a party leadership race, but it's getting lots more media attention than the previous party leadership races. He's an extreme threat to our rule of law democracy, so I don't blame the public & media for paying attention more than usual. But why would we expect other party leaders to make an effort to be in the public eye at this level right now?

I'm perplexed about this notion that "younger voters on the far left" are attracted to Pierre Poilievre. Were they also drawn to Maxime Bernier? If so, they aren't left wing. Perhaps he appeals to some younger voters i.e. Jordan Peterson's fan club of incels and bigots, but neither are they left wing. If they claim to be left wing but support Populist PP, they don't know what "left" means. They are also foolish and naive to think PP has ever cared about the working class or students. All you have to do is look at the record of Conservative policy, the policies that PP himself supported and created. Like his "fair elections act" designed to emasculate Elections Canada and suppress votes. An act called "evil" by the Globe and Mail is a couple of editorials. If by some miracle, Canada's Trump squeaks in a win he'll be as ruinous as Trump (but only if he achieves a majority). If he squeaks in with 33%, he'll have the other parties to deal with and they won't tolerate his far right BS.

Assuming persons vote on labels of right & left or the sum of their policies. Conservatives often win elections on single issues: crime, abortion, and "family values" (code for Christian matters).

Anti-vaxxers have traditionally been extreme left, purist natural health, against Big Pharma advocates. Then the pandemic and public health measures hit, and extreme right and left issues overlapped. Sometimes the enemy of an enemy is a friend.

Poilievre is very slick. And there's that saying about "if you can fake sincerity...." He cannot be underestimated. Especially since people are getting tired of the Trudeau government. Conventional attacks won't work against what he's doing as Jean Charest is finding out. I think he's weak on where he's getting his policies. He's clearly running a Republican franchise and we've seen where that leads. In one video he invokes the great Economist Thomas Sowell. That guy is a YouTube hack and a disciple of Milton Friedman. PP believes in the trickle-down gospel as much as anybody. He's doing what Trump did by winding up the peasants to work against their own best interests. He may pull it off.

The Conservative party, the party of the rich who taketh from the poor, using billions of corporate donations to "con" the uninterested and unwary. PP should be a master at this, shake their hands while you stab them in the back. Amazing to see this self-serving, billionaire supported, yesterdays party still alive and slithering.

Sorry, why is inflation Poilievre's to own? The statement was unsupported. Because he's been doing more messaging? Is Singh's smartphone broken, or his much-praised TikTok account?

Of course, Singh could try the same message that Bernie Sanders is using, which is that inflation has its good points: as both debts and investments shrink in buying-power value, there's an inherent transfer of wealth from rich to poor: your rising wages will make your mortgage payment effectively smaller.

Meanwhile, my retirement nest-egg is also shrinking in positive value; a transfer from old to young. Singh could be pointing this out on TikTok, and wondering aloud why a response that makes young people's new home more expensive is the only government response. Why not take money out of the overheated economy with upper-income taxation?

It's Singh's issue to lose; any economic issue is Singh's issue to lose, since nearly all economic "issues" are about the troubles of the young and low-income.

I see one big similarity between Singh and Poillievre - both seem to either have no understanding of Federal-Provincial division of powers, or are deliberately misleading voters - blaming Trudeau for inflation caused by world events or for the crisis in Provincial health care. The really scary thing is that a public that is so underinformed on how our system of government works may fall for it. Given the weakness of NDP support, this can only result in a Conservative government under Poillievre, and that is where we will see true suffering begin - remember, 8 out of 10 provinces are also run by the same gang of Conservatives.

Health care is administered provincially. But it is nonetheless true that the federal government has a significant hand in it, from the Canada Health Act to a good deal of funding--funding that used to have considerably more strings attached.
None of the current trouble was CAUSED by Justin Trudeau, or even for that matter Pierre before him. But the seeds for a lot of the problems today were sowed by Jean Chretien with Paul Martin as finance minister, when the federal government drastically reduced both its direct health care funding and the strings attached. Successive federal governments cutting tax revenue by reducing taxes on corporations, capital gains and the wealthy did not help, as the loss of revenue made doing anything useful about the gradual erosion of the system more and more difficult. Various provincial governments (mainly right wing provincial governments) certainly bear their share of the blame, but I think it says something that the problems are similar across Canada.
Now it's true that Justin Trudeau didn't cause any of this. But he has been in power for some time now, with the problems becoming more and more evident, and Justin Trudeau has done nothing about it. If the federal government had a stronger role once, clearly it could again. I think it's clear by now that Chretien's cuts and divestment of responsibility were ill-advised and should be reversed. And it's certainly clear that we have a crisis situation across the country, that the federal government should be taking a role in. Prime Minister Trudeau shows no signs of doing, well, anything on the subject--and as the Prime Minister I think it is his responsibility to do so. I think it is similarly Jagmeet Singh's responsibility to call for the Prime Minister to act.

My faith in the youth vote wavers. Back in the 60s and 70s it was very cool to show youthful sympathy to leaders who spouted radical anti-establishment rhetoric on the left, no matter how justified or naive it was. This was combined with very deep, genuine societal and cultural shifts and anti-war empathies that led to much-needed changes in social justice, law, politics and civilized perspectives.

Despite these successes, some of the "left" leaders were later taken in willingly by lofty contracts with corporations and the ego of having their own self-aggrandizing, wealthy organizations built on myth and conspiracy theory. Witness Jerry Rubin, Patrick Moore and Robert Kennedy Jr., to name three.

Today, if you're a loudmouth, conspiracy-espousing asshole politician, you'll automatically get votes from anyone lacking average critical thinking skills who interprets anti-establishment rhetoric as the "truth" merely because it's unconventional and appeals to their secret insecurities, xenophobia and base level addiction to consumerist gratification (mainly underpinned by debt). There is little attempt by "left" or "right" supporters to honestly understand the economic maladies of today on their own, and prefer being told what to think.

And none if this is accompanied by the deep, necessary social change of generations past, not even on the issue of our time: climate change -- at least not as widespread and powerful as back then on other issues to overcome well-funded organized denial.

Poilievre must be kept out of the PMO. The risk of damage is just too high to democracy, evidence-based policy and social justice. On that most mainstream editorial boards and smart independent activists will no doubt agree.

The art of the protest has also weakened over the decades. Back in the day peace marches, civil rights marches and social justice street protests had a great impact on governments, academia and society, and were often marked by violence. Today they are wearing ing out as an effective tool to inspire change at the top even when the violence is still there. The protest movement has also been appropriated by those who possess nefarious intentions and hidden agendas.

Street protest is passe when the issue at hand is regurgitated over and over to the point where people stop paying attention. This is partly why big trucks got the attention even in winter in Ottawa using the age-old street occupation technique with new tools -- big trucks, something copycatted from France where it was practiced for 10 years, and has now largely subsided as police developed new techniques to thwart them from blocking cities. Nonetheless, it turned an otherwise run-of-the-mill street protest into a unique and powerful message-delivery device in Canada. Marshall McLuhan's prescient "the medium is the message" aphorism was etched into Canadian history once again on a frozen Canadian streetscape.

The meaning of the message is where the kernel of truth or lies resides. Most Canadians -- including truckers -- rejected the Convoy (especially when one convoy featured armed extremists) and carried on with their lives as before. This one only succeeded in reinforcing the core believers faith but turned the public off to the point where a reactionary police presence was needed. Today's anti-pipeline and Extinction Rebellion protests are not enough and sometimes work against their causes by blocking traffic sometimes putting themselves and the public in danger. No one reads the message; everyone sees the angry reaction.

I believe that the great change we need will not come about by protest alone, but by reorienting our own lives to quietly defeat the economic foundations that carbon dependency, anti-science and disruptive negative social policies and rhetoric are built on. Rage only foments the wealth that sustains red neck right wing media talking heads. Instead, widely promoting the redirection of our individual, extended family and regional resources into non-fossil fueled endeavours supplemented with knowledge / learning and constructive cultural activity will probably have way more impact than convoys and well-meaning bridge-blocking protests over environmental issues.

That is a long-winded way of saying: Think globally, act locally. And don't put too much faith in politicians when there is more power in our own hands than we think.

For those old enough to remember how the Chretien/Martin Liberals stole Reform's emphasis on "slaying the deficit," the Liberals (and the NDP) could benefit from anything Poilievre reveals as popular with the voting public. Young voters are legitimately concerned about housing affordability. Poilievre mentioned turning underused and unused federal buildings into housing. Best to press him on the details for that. The CPC would likely sell off those public assets to the private-for-profit development sector, which is the usual approach that ends up transferring public wealth (in this case, real estate) into a few private hands. Unfortunately youth were not around when Canada had a stellar reputation regarding affordable housing built and maintained by public dollars. Perhaps better if the Liberals and the NDP were to strongly and openly align their platforms with the co-operative housing sector, which the majority of young Canadians are also unaware of, but which keeps a measure of asset wealth (housing) affordable for more than private-for-profit does.