Yesterday we saw the first person announce that they were going to take the leap into the Conservative Leadership race, with little known Bryan Brulotte stepping forward. It was a mixed bag of a first day for the “Insiders Outsider”, as I’m putting it for now. While he made the media rounds, sitting down with Evan Solomon on his first show of “Power Play” and even finding time to jump down to Brockville to do more media with local cable TV there. But at the same time the Canadian Press found all kinds of spelling mistakes in Brulotte’s newspaper ads in French media and in the French on his website.
On the whole, it wasn’t the worst launch nor the best for a leadership campaign. But for Brulotte, maybe the worst news came later in the day, as a piece of big news leaked out that not only stole the headlines for the day, but also gave an idea of the calibre of candidates who might get into this thing before the end:
Yes folks, “Skippy” is running to be the next Leader of the Conservative Party. That in of itself doesn’t come as a shock to this observer or frankly, to anyone. Pierre Poilievre was going to do this someday, and was likely to get into this race. The news here was the two big names coming to his campaign right off the start. Jenni Byrne and John Baird are two of the biggest establishment names of the Harper Conservative era, with Byrne being one of the biggest staffers from that time and Baird being one of the biggest cabinet ministers from that era. Both also have deep connections in Ontario, as Byrne was a part of the team that helped Doug Ford become Premier, while Baird was one of the most prominent ministers in the Mike Harris era. So to see these two jump on board with Poilievre is an interesting show of strength up front that will spook some who might be thinking of running, but also leaves you to wonder who else might be ready to line up behind him.
But here is the thing about Poilievre, or “Skippy” as he is called by people of all partisan stripes in Ottawa, including Conservatives; he has big weaknesses as a candidate. For starters, his personal history is one that opens him up to all kinds of problems, worse ones than Andrew Scheer ever brought to the table. He was the subject of probably one of the top pieces of political satire in Canadian history, this piece by Rick Mercer:
And that is just the prime example of how Poilievre has the same profile and issues that Andrew Scheer had, but with worse edges. Scheer, like Poilievre, are basically career politicians who have earned big six figure salaries since their early 20’s, have never had to earn a living outside of politics. A piece by Maclean’s in 2014 even quotes Poilievre’s past words, when he said as a 20 year old, where he wrote that “Politics should not be a lifelong career and elected officials should not be allowed to fix themselves in the halls of power of a nation.” Amazingly, that’s exactly what he’s done while trying to portray themselves as the “everyman” in our society. I wonder what 20 year old Pierre would think of that.
But what makes things worse for Poilievre is that while Scheer spent most of his backbench years being low key and more collegial, Pierre has been an attack dog through out his career. To call his approach abrasive would be an understatement, as he’s been far from being the nice guy. He’s one of the more partisan potential candidates in this field, and while that may charge up some in their base, does it grow it? More than likely not. And while Mr. Scheer had few public comments that were offensive and worse to be used against him, Poilievre’s closet is chalked full of them. Back in 2008, hours before Stephen Harper gave the governments apology for Residential Schools, he said this in a radio interview:
That folks, is the guy that now wants to have chance to become Prime Minister, the guy who on the very day of the Residential School apology went on radio and spouted some of the ugliest, racist stereotypes about Indigenous peoples, ones that have been thrown at us for generations. He’s also the same guy who said that back during the Mike Duffy scandal that Nigel Wright did the “honourable” thing and that he showed true “leadership” by dipping into his own pocket to gift Duffy with the money. And there are many other quotes that he has built up over 15 plus years in elected life. That’s some serious baggage for him to overcome, the kind that probably would be crippling in a general election.
One thing is pretty clear here for Poilievre; he wouldn’t be getting in and these big names wouldn’t be getting behind him if they didn’t feel that he could win. If his becoming Conservative leader would be the best thing for the Conservative Party, well that might be a totally different discussion for a different day. It will be interesting to see how Poilievre and his approach will fit within this race and the others that get into it. With there being a strong sense that maybe the Blue Team needs to have an adult in the room to lead them, it’s an open question as to if Skippy can be that person. But that’s the thing about leadership races; they force us to look at these candidates in a different light and forces them to look at themselves in such a way to. It will be interesting to see how Poilievre deals with his past and his track record but it’s clear that for more partisan Conservatives who want their leaders to have their elbows up, they might have their guy. How the rest of the electorate feels about that, time will tell.