When considering Pierre Poilievre, you need to distinguish between the incoherence of some of his policy and this fact: In politics, either you’ve got it or you don’t. He’s got it.
As a populist politician, the new Conservative Leader often appeals to emotion over reason. Firing the governor of the Bank of Canada, as he proposes, will have no impact on inflation. Compelling universities to protect free-speech rights would simply mandate what already exists.
Mr. Poilievre’s housing policy is particularly fraught. “I will require severely unaffordable big cities like Toronto and Vancouver to increase home building by 15 per cent or lose some of their federal infrastructure funds,” Mr. Poilievre declared. As well, “I will create a building bonus that pays municipalities $10,000 dollars for every extra home built.”
We can debate the extent to which zoning restrictions and development charges contribute to rising housing prices. But it’s beyond debate that Mr. Poilievre’s wish to impose the federal government’s will on municipal planning violates all norms of federalism.
“The question I have is: What conditions should they be putting on municipalities and how much do they know about how municipalities operate to impose these conditions?” asked Enid Slack, director of the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance at the University of Toronto’s School of Cities.
Under our Constitution, municipalities are subordinate to provincial governments. While Ottawa sometimes transfers funds directly to municipalities for infrastructure programs, this should always be done with provincial and municipal co-operation, Prof. Slack said.
Up until now, Conservative governments made a habit of respecting provincial jurisdictions, while Liberals preferred to impose conditions, especially on health transfers.
By forcing municipalities to increase their housing supply as a condition of federal funding, Mr. Poilievre would be micromanaging another order of government in a way that not even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has thought of before.
There are plenty of other flawed, illogical policies in the Poilievre playbook. Do we really want to become the “blockchain capital of the world?”
He wants to axe the carbon tax. And he would fight global warming how?
Mr. Poilievre goes on endlessly about “Justinflation.” How would he end it? The answer is: He couldn’t. Only the Bank of Canada can, by raising interest rates, which it is doing.
That is why, whenever journalists or lawyers or public servants talk amongst themselves, they shake their heads, or worse, over Mr. Poilievre’s agenda. Much of it makes no sense; some of it would be destructive.
But none of them get it.
Effective politicians know what they think and say it out loud. They know how to get others to follow them. They attract successful people who are attracted to other successful people. They are leaders. They’ve got it.
Stephen Harper had it. Though no populist, and anything but charismatic, he was able to persuade Progressive Conservatives to join the Canadian Alliance in forming the Conservative Party. He then shaped that party in his image and led it to victory in three consecutive elections.
Justin Trudeau has it. He took a bankrupt Liberal Party languishing in third place and in danger of extinction. He then shaped that party in his image and led it to victory in three consecutive elections.
I believe Pierre Poilievre has it, too. If you listened to the first 12 minutes of his acceptance speech on Saturday night, it was all there: the confidence, the command of language, the derisive dismissal of the Grits, the offer of hope in troubled times. (After that the speech meandered from one thing to another, which he should stop doing.)
Some of Mr. Poilievre’s policies – such as re-establishing sound federal finances, making it easier for immigrants to work in their field and compelling bureaucrats to write in plain English – are welcome. Others will be modified or quietly dropped. The Liberals will counter with new progressive policies and attack ads. No one who knows what they are talking about would dare predict the outcome.
But Justin Trudeau and Pierre Poilievre have both got it. Each recognizes it in the other. Each is determined to bring the other down. This will be something to watch.