In his march to the leadership of the federal Conservative Party, Pierre Poilievre made clear in campaign stops across the country who the enemies were.
The top of the list, of course, was reserved for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who was responsible for the “Justinflation” ruining the lives of everyday Canadians. But also making the grade was another favourite target of the Conservatives over the years: media outlets that are not explicitly sympathetic to the conservative cause.
The Conservative Leader’s attacks on the media emanate from a belief that most newsrooms in Canada are hotbeds of left-leaning journalists who have no time for what Mr. Poilievre is selling. It’s why Mr. Poilievre’s promise to defund the CBC always draws loud applause at his rallies.
Attempting to undermine the legitimacy of the media serves a couple of very important purposes for Mr. Poilievre. If he can erode trust in the media, it helps debilitate valid criticism that journalists and opinion writers might have of the Conservative Leader’s policies.
This is vital, especially if some of your proposals are deeply flawed, or your statements about the current government are patently false. You want to undermine the public’s faith in those who might be drawing attention to matters that don’t reflect well on you or your party.
Of course, this comes right out of the playbook of Donald Trump, who told followers not to trust the media, and dismissed critical journalistic reports about him or his policies as lies. “We cannot allow the Fake News Media … to flood the airwaves and mislead the American people … they are our strongest opponent yet,” Mr. Trump wrote in a fundraising letter in 2017.
And like Mr. Trump, Mr. Poilievre has discovered a benefit of establishing an adversarial relationship with the media is generating money for your cause.
This week, the Conservative Leader called a news conference to discuss the Liberal government’s announced moves to help those struggling with inflation. Before he could really get going, though, he was interrupted several times by Global News reporter David Akin, who wanted to know why Mr. Poilievre was not going to take questions. Mr. Poilievre referred to Mr. Akin as a “Liberal heckler.”
Mr. Akin is a long-time Hill reporter respected by his peers. Before Global, he spent years in the service of Sun Media, an outlet that was generally sympathetic to the Conservatives.
The confrontation with Mr. Poilievre did cross a line, as Mr. Akin admitted himself later on Twitter, saying he agreed with those who viewed his behaviour as rude and disrespectful. He apologized.
But it didn’t take long for Mr. Poilievre to get a fundraising letter out highlighting what ad taken place. “You won’t believe this,” it began. “I couldn’t believe it, and it happened to me.” He said Mr. Akin had hurled obscenities at the Conservative Leader (he did not) before shouting at him. Pointedly, the letter from the Leader of the Opposition mentioned Mr. Akin by name, which will almost certainly make him a subject of threats and abuse.
“This is what we’re up against,” the letter said. It’s not just the Liberals, it went on: “It’s the media, who are no longer interested in even pretending to be unbiased. They want us to lose.” The only way for the Conservatives to deal with this, he wrote, was to “go around them and their biased coverage.”
But that takes money. And so the letter asked Conservative supporters to help out.
It was reminiscent of Mr. Poilievre’s attack on Global News reporter Rachel Gilmore, who had the temerity to ask the-then leadership candidate about his photos with certain anti-vaccine extremists. Mr. Poilievre put out a statement that a “so-called journalist” had decided to “smear” him. After that, Ms. Gilmore was bombarded with harassment and threats, which were frightening in tone.
But again, this appears part of a strategy by Mr. Poilievre and his team to try and destroy the reputation of those assigned to cover his leadership and party, and slander those who cast him in a poor light.
I don’t imagine the Conservative leader will make himself available to the media much in the months ahead. In that respect, he’s likely to behave very much like his former boss, Stephen Harper, who rarely disguised his disdain for those covering his government.
Mr. Poilievre believes he can become the next prime minister of Canada without the media’s help. He saw Donald Trump do it, rising to power by vilifying the media and fundraising from it.
It seems Pierre Poilievre was paying attention.
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