The internet is having a good chuckle over Pierre Poilievre’s latest video, in which he waxes poetic about some old planks. We all need a laugh these days, but this is serious stuff. It shows how quickly our politics are straying into the twilight zone.
The four-minute video is not the work of some fringe player. Mr. Poilievre is a former cabinet minister and leading Conservative MP. Now that Patrick Brown is out, he is considered the solid front-runner in the contest to lead his party into the next election and to vie to be prime minister of Canada.
He is a deft communicator. He speaks fluidly in both English and French. His video is a clever and skillful piece of campaign propaganda.
Most attempts by politicians to connect with voters this way are awkward, even embarrassing. Think of Andrew Scheer’s painful attempts to mix with ordinary folks a couple of elections back. Either that or they are so scripted as to be almost robotic, like many of the Prime Minister’s appearances. Mr. Poilievre has the knack of looking natural and at ease when he makes his pitch, a great gift in the era of Twitter and TikTok.
If you haven’t seen his video yet, do tune in. We find Mr. Poilievre at home in Ottawa, admiring a post he recovered from an old barn to use in a DIY project. Early lumberjacks hewed it from logs, he says, leaving the scars of their axes as evidence of their labour. Then he turns to the planks on the wall. He bought them from a farmer, and spent hours cleaning and restoring them.
Why? Because they tell a story about the people who fashioned them and the elements that weathered them. All he did, he says, getting to his point, was to reclaim what was already there in the wood. “And that’s what my campaign is about” – reclaiming Canadians’ lost freedom.
“So-called liberals,” he tells viewers, have been trying to build a kind of utopia in this country, knocking down statues, sweeping away history and banning words as they go. This is nothing but a pretext to give themselves “vast new powers,” something he says they have been trying to do all through the past seven years of Liberal government. “Reclaim your life,” he concludes, as swelling strings play. “Reclaim your freedom.”
No one who has the least paid attention to what is going on in the world’s democracies over the past few years can fail to hear the echoes here. Brexiteers like the unlamented Boris Johnson told British voters that leaving the European Union would help them “take back control” of their lives. The still-dangerous Donald Trump railed against media, corporate and government “elites.” Mr. Poilievre does, too.
It would be fooling ourselves to imagine Canada is immune to the lure of populism. Toronto’s Rob Ford rose to power on a promise to wrest the city away from its self-serving elite and “stop the gravy train.” Last winter’s freedom-convoy mess in Ottawa unveiled a seam of anger at overreaching governments and established institutions. Many Canadians are weary of being told to reflect on the wrongs of Canadian history, however real and grave.
Mr. Poilievre and some of his rivals for the Conservative leadership are feeding these resentments. He has blamed the Bank of Canada for inflation and promised to fire its governor. He says that “government is ruining the Canadian dollar.” He is a fan of cryptocurrencies, the digital funny money that recently fell to Earth. Before the crypto crash, he told a podcast host that he and his wife sometimes watch a cryptocurrency channel on YouTube “late into the night.”
He has said that he will ban ministers in his government from going to the World Economic Forum, a favourite punching bag for conspiracy theorists. He recently walked alongside an army veteran who marched to Ottawa to protest vaccine mandates. “People should have the freedom to make their own decisions with their own bodies,” Mr. Poilievre said.
When it was reported that a company had supplied public health authorities with cell phone data showing the movements of Canadians during the pandemic, he told Canadians that “the Trudeau government has been spying on you everywhere” – though the anonymized data did not identify anyone.
So, by all means, permit yourself a smile at Mr. Poilievre’s rhapsody on old wood. But don’t laugh it off. This is no joke.
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