Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. The Ontario MP remains the heavy favourite to be the next Conservative Party leader.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday, June 15, 2022. The Ontario MP remains the heavy favourite to be the next Conservative Party leader.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang

CLAXTON: Pierre Poilievre’s big problem

If you’re attracting supporters who don’t usually vote – will they?

Pierre Poilievre, it’s safe to say, is not likely to be a normal Conservative Party leader.

Yes, there’s still an outside, tiny, minuscule chance that Jean Charest will manage to scrape up enough of an “anybody but Pierre” vote in the leadership race to succeed Erin O’Toole. But the odds are that Poilievre is about to become the face of Canadian conservatism for the next several years.

So the question becomes, will Poilievre be a serious threat to the Liberals in 2025, three years from now?

Pulling back and being objective, I think Poilievre has one big advantage that has only been discussed a little bit.

He’s an appealing candidate for people who don’t ever vote.

Previous Conservative leaders, like Andrew Scheer or Stephen Harper, and previous Liberal PMs like Jean Chretien and Trudeau senior, have attempted to craft a popular image and set of policies, designed to appeal to the broad middle swathe of Canadian voters.

Think of a regular Canadian voter. They come in a variety of forms. Some are firm partisans, and the NDP/Liberals/Conservatives/Greens/etc. can count on their votes year after year. Others are more mildly ideological, and may skip from party to party, depending on policies and their impression of the leaders.

But they all have one thing in common – they think voting is worth doing.

The largest untapped resource in the electorate is the folks who don’t bother to show up to the polls at all.

Many non-voters have a baseline belief that politicians are all crooks, they’re all the same, and therefore voting never changes anything.

Those are the folks Poilievre is courting.

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Poilievre’s policies, such as they are, have been aimed at people who have very little connection to mainstream conservatism (or mainstream anything else).

He’s pushed Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies, and he’s declared a crusade against any and all vaccine mandates.

Neither of those are major concerns of mainstream, middle-class Canadians, which is why no other political leader is talking about them much right now.

But they’re things that get a lot of people angry, and a lot of those people are not regular voters.

Poilievre’s plan seems to be to create a coalition between those who reflexively vote Conservative, and a bunch of newcomers, including conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, cryptobros, and whatever other outsider groups he can add by 2025.

But that’s Poilievre’s big problem.

For the next three years, he has to keep those people all facing the same way, all fired up, and ready to vote. Despite the fact that the key thing we know about them is that they usually don’t do that!

Bitcoin’s price tanked this year, and vaccine mandates and even masking rules are all but gone, with better vaccines expected as soon as this fall.

For Poilievre to win and become PM, he’s going to have to keep a lot of very peculiar plates spinning all the way to 2025. I doubt he can manage that trick.

Matthew Claxton is a reporter with the Langley Advance Times.

canadian politicsColumnConservative Party of CanadaOpinion

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