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It’s not often that Pierre Poilievre is at a loss for words. But on the morning after his first federal byelection as Conservative Party of Canada leader, one that saw his candidate in Mississauga-Lakeshore get shellacked by Liberal Charles Sousa, Poilievre’s social feeds were uncharacteristically quiet. Clearly, this was not the first impression with the general public he was hoping for.

Mississauga-Lakeshore is a suburban Ontario riding the CPC won under Stephen Harper’s leadership in 2011 and Poilievre absolutely must win if he wants to form the next federal government. This time, his side lost by 14 points — more than double the six-point defeat it suffered in the 2021 federal election. The CPC’s poor showing is all the more striking in light of the current political environment, one that’s dominated by inflation, rising interest rates and other economic dynamics that should hurt the incumbent party. “Yup, the Poilievre message is really resonating in suburban Ontario,” Globe and Mail columnist Andrew Coyne tweeted sarcastically.

As former Trudeau pollster Dan Arnold noted, the Liberal vote share was higher in the byelection (and remember, byelections tend to be terrible for incumbent party candidates) than in 2021, 2019 or 2015 — and higher than Sousa, a former Ontario Liberal finance minister, ever got in a provincial election. “As for Poilievre,” Arnold wrote, “he did succeed in collapsing the PPC vote, but will come in with lower vote share than (former CPC leader) Erin O'Toole did in 2021. He's right around (former CPC leader Andrew) Scheer's 2019 total.”

If there’s any good news here for Poilievre, it’s that this miserable result gives him an opportunity to learn from his mistakes. The next federal election is almost certainly still two years away, and this outcome — as embarrassing as it is — will be long forgotten by then. Wars aren’t won or lost in the first battle, and he can use this defeat to adjust his tactics accordingly.

Chief among those is the reality that what works for a leadership race — a steady diet of well-seasoned political red meat — doesn’t suit the appetites of the general electorate. YouTube videos about lumber and cryptocurrency may fire up his young male supporters within the Conservative Party of Canada, but they seem far less effective at motivating less ideologically strident voters. Not everyone is on Twitter or YouTube, and page views aren’t the same thing as votes — especially when many of those views can come from outside our borders.

An even bigger lesson revolves around his approach to dealing with the mainstream media. Picking fights with the media may fire up the base, delight your donors and help you control your message, but they also make it much harder to reach people who aren’t already invested in your politics. And yet, Poilievre seemed determined to ice out major media outlets in the course of campaigning for Mississauga-Lakeshore.

As the Toronto Star’s Chantal Hebert wrote last week, even his one major press conference in Toronto was news to them and their audiences. “If that’s the first you’ve heard of it, that’s because the city’s major media outlets, be they print, radio or TV, were not invited. True to his belief about the mainstream media, Poilievre is campaigning off its radar.”

This sort of narrowcasting media relations strategy may have worked in an internal party race, especially one where hatred of the “mainstream media” is practically an article of faith. But as the byelection blowout shows, it’s far less effective when you have to contend with non-conservative voters and the media outlets they rely upon.

The big question now is whether he and his team are capable of learning the lessons they were just taught. It will be tempting for them to blame the mainstream media, attack the subsidies those outlets receive from government and suggest the solution lies in defunding news organizations and the CBC. The Liberals, for their part, probably wouldn’t mind seeing the Conservatives go down this road, given that it looks an awful lot like the same intellectual dead-end Scheer proudly steered into during his last speech as CPC leader.

Pierre Poilievre's candidate in the Mississauga-Lakeshore riding got shellacked by Liberal Charles Sousa, causing the #CPC leader's social feeds to go uncharacteristically quiet. @maxfawcett writes for @NatObserver #opinion #cdnpoli

If Poilievre’s people don’t want him to become the second coming of Scheer, they’ll need to find a way to engage more constructively with people outside their partisan bubble. That will almost certainly mean opening him up more to the mainstream media and the Parliamentary Press Gallery and finding a way to turn a toxic relationship into a conventionally adversarial one. If they don’t, they risk turning Justin Trudeau into a four-time prime minister — perhaps even one with a new majority mandate.

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Please keep it up Pierre Populism, we don't believe you will be good for Canada . Your attempt to be our savior has been a gaslighting experience on issues you have no control over, and one I don't want to experience again.

Pee Pee and his followers cannot seem to understand that at some point they have to stop talking about what they'd do and actually show HOW they'd do it. The Trump playbook won't work in Canada and it's days in the sun are over.

I think first they need to get to where they even say anything about what they'd do. Usually it's more about what they'd get rid of and who they hate. Not a lot about the idea that they'd be in government and would actually, I dunno, govern.

You mention the hatred of mainstream media (adopted from Palin's original "lamestream media," from years ago, such wordsmiths these guys, they just love a turn of phrase) as an "article of faith." That's the thing, conservatism has become a cult, but for years since the Reform takeover, and STILL, media people yammer on about how the cons need to "learn," or step "outside of their bubble......" why oh why can't we accept who these guys ARE? It's not like they don't keep telling AND showing us over and over.
To me it's like the media pundits are interchangeable with sportscasters obliged to fan interest in "the game," new every time with new, interesting players and jumping right over top of how the party really hasn't changed at all. They still don't "believe" climate change is real, and they still think homosexuality is a lifestyle, and that conversion therapy is fine, and gay marriage is a horror. AND not just coincidentally, they're still disproportionately religious.

Someone should start a Go Fund Me campaign to buy rope for Pierre.

People are getting tired of performative rage politics. This by-election and the recent midterm elections in the US have shown this quite clearly. Media pundits keep saying that Conservatives here and Republicans there need to re-evaluate their strategy and become more appealing to those not in their base. While this is obviously true, one begins to wonder if it is actually possible. Does anyone in Canada actually believe that Poilievre will suddenly morph into anything approaching a more moderate person? Why? He has made his name on performative rage from the time he entered the House of Commons. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, he really believes that we have too much regulation, taxes need to be cut and that anyone named Trudeau is evil personified. Not only he, but the rest of the base of Conservatives, are steeped in Dominionist Christian beliefs. Harper, for a very short time, was able to mask his Dominionist beliefs and keep his caucus in line. But that could not last. When he became more obviously what he is at heart, he lost. His protege Poilievre is not only steeped in these beliefs but has never adorned the mask of normality. The best we can hope for from the present Conservative Party is that there are some old time PC''s who (like Liz Cheney) will break away. This present Reform Conservative Party is incapable of seeing that their beliefs are not only out of step with the majority of Canadians but also the wrong answers to the problems of the modern world.

Many of the preceding comments are amusing and the analysis useful for those whose ears are willing to listen. "Gaslighting" and populism may or may not succeed in boosting the spirits of Conservatives who around the world's democracies, seem to have lost the plot. They are still so focused on kowtowing to the oligarchs and theocracy, and even the former "Red Menaces" who are willing to fund them; they have refused to understand that they are now dealing with ambitious, young, educated, voting age cynics who are being thwarted by the entrenched gerontocracy . Oddly, Poilievre belongs to the cynical cohort but somehow he has been seduced by the populism path and relies on it's intellectual emptiness where he should be coming up with reasonable, realistic policies. Intellectual emptiness is the sign of the would be autocrat.

The thing is that the "reasonable, realistic" side of conservatism is basically economic neoliberalism. One problem for the Poilievres of the world is that economic neoliberalism is no longer politically workable for conservatives, partly because it has been so thoroughly adopted by centrists such as Liberals and Democrats that they can no longer really claim it as a brand, and partly because events piling up over the years have shown so thoroughly that it's as intellectually empty as any alt-right conspiracy theory, that even the right wing base doesn't believe much of it any more. For instance, most of the alt-right hate free trade, one of the few opinions they hold that has some solid reasons behind it.

So conservative leaders have a choice between alt-right intellectual emptiness that may signify nothing but has lots of sound and fury, or mainstream intellectual emptiness that both signifies nothing and sounds like nothing and that their base has given up on. It's a crappy choice, I would sympathize if I didn't hate their guts.