The leading candidate for Canada’s Conservative Party leadership promised less government control, including an end to COVID-19 regulations, fiscal discipline in the face of inflation, and more autarky, during one of his last stops in British Columbia before a new leader is announced on Sept. 10.
Pierre Poilievre drew an estimated crowd in excess of 1,200 people to the Mary Winspear Centre in Sidney Sunday, where he promised that a future government of his would lessen Canada’s dependence on foreign food imports while allowing Canada’s energy sector to export more resources, be they oil or natural gas.
He also pledged his government would lower inflation by cutting government spending, and to repeal the federal carbon tax. He promised to create more housing by reducing regulation and tying federal infrastructure funds to municipalities building more housing — preferably high-density housing around public transport.
Canada, he said, must help its young people, who have done everything right only to see themselves shut out of the housing market.
While Poilievre said little on climate change, he had much to say about the CBC as part of a broader critique of the “gate-keepers” whom he accused of stifling Canadians. He drew loud applause when he promised to defund the public broadcaster less than two minutes into his 20-minute speech and later promised to transform its facilities into housing.
Poilievre also attacked what he called “woke warriors.” They — contrary to their claims — are not concerned about social justice, but power — the power to tell Canadians what to think and say, while making them feel bad about their own values, he said.
He proposed tying federal support for Canadian universities with unspecified guarantees of academic freedom. Within this vein, Poilievre identified freedom of expression as found in S.2 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom as the most important. Poilievre had previously defended the trucker protest in Ottawa earlier this year.
Poilievre’s frequent appeal to the power of freedom earned him admiration from the crowd, with many having travelled from other parts of British Columbia to see him. Many also endured a long line snaking through the entire facility to shake his hand and get a picture with him.
“We have hope, we have hope that in the words of the great John Diefenbaker, ‘I’m a Canadian, a free Canadian, free to speak without fear, free to stand for what is right, free to oppose what I believe wrong, free to worship God in many own way, free to choose those who shall govern my country. This heritage I pledge to uphold for myself and for all of mankind.’”
Like Diefenbaker, Poilievre is promoting a nationalistic, but also multi-ethnic vision of Canada, with a direct reference to religious freedoms of all during Sunday’s speech. Many in the audience were likely born well after Diefenbaker’s death in 1979 and his years as prime minister between 1957 and 1963.
Poilievre also tried to underscore this Canada-first view through his disdain of the World Economic Forum, with Poilievre describing his campaign as a movement.
Poilievre riffed on a line from former US president Bill Clinton, ironically, a strong supporter of globalization.
“There is nothing wrong with this country that cannot be fixed by what is right with this country,” said Poilievre.
The anticipation for Poilievre’s appearance was high. Dion Weisner and Barbara Adams were among the crowd.
Weisner, who lives in Victoria’s James Bay neighbourhood, said he was curious about the size of the crowd. He later added that previous promises by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had failed to deliver. “So I am looking for something else,” he said. He added that he is not concerned about Poilievre’s perceived proximity to the fringes of Canadian politics. His main concern is housing and cost of living. “He is the only one who I have seen talk about the cost of housing,” he said. “I have only been able to manage to buy a small one-bedroom with the assistance of my parents. All my friends are still struggling to even afford rent.”
Curiosity also drove Barbara Adams to come out to Sidney from Oak Bay. “He sometimes has been outspoken in the wrong way,” she said. “He gives you the impression that he is just flying off.” But media coverage can also be out of context and misleading, she added. “I think he’s young and has a lot of energy.”
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