If the Canada Strong and Free unofficial debate last night is any sampling of the mood of conservatives in this country Pierre Poilievre is their man.
And why not?
If you closed your eyes and tried to conjure up a conservative from scratch, your imagination would probably carve out the baby-faced, be-spectacled Poilievre in his dark blue suit.
He is Calgary-born.
He lives and breathes low taxes, small government, is pro-pipeline anti-carbon tax and bends libertarian.
"If the Canada Strong and Free unofficial debate last night is any sampling of the mood of conservatives in this country Pierre Poilievre is their man." @karyn_pugliese writes for @natobserver #CPCdebate #cdnpoli
First elected to represent Nepean—Carleton in 2004 at age 24, Poilievre picked his team and committed at an age where most youth are only becoming politically aware.
Canada Strong and Free Network, formerly the Manning Centre, is where conservatives come to share ideas about public policy. This is conservative ground zero. Where Adam Smith, the free market and family values rule. If you want to know what’s on the minds of conservative Canada, last night’s first, but unofficial, conservative leadership debate hosted by Canada Strong and Free Network, was the place to be.
What’s on their mind these days is inflation, free expression, natural gas exploration, and health care.
But mostly: Who can win?
Moderators Candice Malcolm, founder of the conservative digital media platform True North, and Jamil Jivani, a conservative media personality, lawyer and incoming president of Canada Strong and Free, focused more on strategy than policy in their questions, bluntly asking: Why do Conservatives keep losing? How will a pro-life stance play in the ‘liberal’ media? Can you prevent Western alienation and keep the party from splitting again?
But at the heart perhaps was this question, Jivani directed to moderate candidate Scott Aitchison:
“The previous leader Erin O’Toole ran as a quintessential Ontario moderate and we were promised by the ivory tower commentaries that approach would win seats in the Toronto area, it did not work. Why should we believe a conservative party led by you would bear different fruit?”
If the room is any measure of the mood across the country, conservatives want to leave ‘big tent’ parties at the circus. They just want someone who represents their authentic selves and core values. If that’s true, Poillievre is a stand out.
“I am a true conservative. I stood for the same things all my life,” said Poilievre taking a jab at the man who many see as his closest competitor, Jean Charest, for his record on taxes, shale gas exploration, and the long gun registry he added, “I am not just putting on a blue shirt to cover up a red shirt, temporarily, in order to take over the party.”
“How do we reach out to all Canadians? With a clear consistent conservative message,” he added later in the debate.
Poilievre is running on a promise to just be himself, conservative to the core.
And that is the way the conservative base likes him.
A long-time party volunteer and a member of the Young Conservatives, 27-year old Jesse Furber listened raptly to the debate, resting his Poilievre sign on his knee. He loves Pollievre’s energy, and his consistency.
“The one thing we can all kind of agree on is small government, more freedom, right? I think his campaign is really tip-of-the-torch. He ran with that and is the freedom candidate. He’s proud of it, he’d been loud about it, and he’s unapologetic,” said Furber, who is not related to the campaign.
“I think he is probably the most consistent conservative we’ve seen,” said Matthew Kelman, also a Young Conservative who came out to hear the debate, “The last two races – they have just been garbage. (Erin) O’Toole was a total dud. (Andrew) Scheer was a total dud. I think he’s got a lot of energy - so go Pierre.”
While Charest won applause at times throughout the night, there was one moment when he was openly jeered. It was when he took a jab at Poilievre’s support for protestors at the controversial trucker’s convoy which shut down Ottawa’s for weeks last Spring. “You cannot make laws, then break laws…” said Charest, the end of the sentence drowned out by boos.
As for Poilievre, he stood by his decision.
“The truckers after being called heroes for two years for delivering products and services across the border, without a vaccine, suddenly became villains or lawbreakers…” he said, careful to make a distinction between those who protested peacefully, and those who broke laws.
Nuances seldom win points in politics, but that answer played well to the room, and to Furber.
“As soon as they came at him with the truckers, he was like ''No I’m not going to disown the truckers, I’ll disown some individuals,” said Furber. “And that is so important for a leader to be able to do that, to make that distinction.”
“As far as Pierre is concerned he hit the nail on the head every single time. It’s refreshing, I am super happy that he’s running and I can’t wait for him to be Prime Minister,” added Furber.