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opinion

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period, in Ottawa on Sept. 23.Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

This week surely marks the beginning of Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre’s membership to the anti-fascist, anti-extremist, and anti-far-right resistance. Welcome, sir. What a journey it has been for you to get here.

You see, until now, Mr. Poilievre has been quite content to stoke the fires of certain extremist movements, trusting that the flames would never blow back on his home.

During his leadership campaign, he flirted with the conspiracy theory that members of the World Economic Forum (WEF) are surreptitiously infiltrating governments across the globe to enforce radical social change. Mr. Poilievre promised that, if elected, he would ban members of his cabinet from attending WEF events, seemingly unconcerned that, one, the theory is nuts, and two, it deals heavily in anti-semitic tropes about the “global elite” and centralized control of the world’s finances. Mr. Poilievre knew it would be useful to nod to certain disengaged voters in this way, so he allowed himself – the self-professed slayer of gatekeepers – to gatekeep his cabinet in this logistically trivial but socially significant way.

He has also been unapologetic and unrelenting in his support of the trucker convoy, forever attempting to distinguish between peaceful, lawful protesters and those who say and do “unacceptable things.” Of course, that distinguishing line was moot the moment the protest became an illegal occupation that hijacked downtown Ottawa and blocked border crossings, but Mr. Poilievre – who said during the left-wing rail blockade of early 2020 that the freedom to swing your fist “stops at the tip of another person’s nose” – has conspicuously avoided making mention of the convoy’s extremist elements. Indeed, during the Conservative leadership campaign, he chided rival Jean Charest for his criticisms of the trucker convoy, ignoring the fact that its participants spent weeks (figuratively) punching downtown residents in the nose, and pretending there weren’t those among the crowd who espoused violent, hateful and threatening rhetoric.

And most notably in hindsight, Mr. Poilievre declined the opportunity to disavow Jeremy MacKenzie, leader of the far-right group Diagolon, when he learned that he had shaken hands with Mr. MacKenzie at one of his leadership campaign events. Mr. Poilievre couldn’t be blamed for shaking hands with the man, of course – politicians can’t be expected to recognize each and every fringe cartoon character who shows up to their rallies – but they can be expected to cough up something more specific and significant than “I denounce racism and anyone who spreads it” when they later learn that the individual in question had threatened journalists and mused about overthrowing the government by force. Mr. Poilievre took a more defiant approach, however, pointing out that he “can’t be responsible for Justin Trudeau’s many racist outbursts just because I’ve met with and shaken his hand.” Ostensibly Mr. Poilievre’s intention was less to endear himself to Canada’s small gaggle of Diagolon loyalists, and more to signal to his other supporters that he won’t play the media’s game.

But that decision looks foolish in light of recent events, now that Mr. MacKenzie’s extremist flames have caught on Mr. Poilievre’s roof. In a video posted to social media over the weekend, Mr. MacKenzie and another man joked about raping Mr. Poilievre’s wife, Anaida Poilievre, and this time, Mr. Poilievre didn’t mince words, “This weekend, I became aware of disgusting comments made by Jeremy MacKenzie and another man, where they discuss sexually assaulting my wife,” he said in a statement Monday. “These men are dirtbags,” he said, adding that his office has referred the matter to the RCMP.

Mr. Poilievre is quite justified in his anger about Mr. MacKenzie’s grotesque remarks, and he is right to respond with censure more significant and specific than, “I denounce violent misogyny and anyone who spreads it.” Surely Mr. Poilievre can better understand now the impact that extremist rhetoric has on individual journalists, particularly women journalists (whom Mr. MacKenzie has called skanks and dumb bitches), especially when they are threatened with violence and abuse.

As such, I expect that Mr. Poilievre will no longer be selective in his outrage, and careful in his implications when going on the attack. Indeed, having expressed his intolerance for this sort of extremism, and humbled by its personal effect, Mr. Poilievre will surely refrain from dabbling in conspiracies that play to stereotypes about certain groups, and pretending he doesn’t see lawlessness and bigotry in movements he supports, and shrugging off radicalism among his fans so he can keep a certain antagonism going between himself and the media. Right? Anything else would render him a charlatan and a raging hypocrite. No, Mr. Poilievre, the authentic politician that he is, will surely maintain his intolerance for extremism even when the flames move to his neighbours’ homes. Welcome to the resistance, Mr. Poilievre: the attacked, the marginalized and the vulnerable look forward to your advocacy.