Pierre Poilievre has only been conservative leader for three months since being elected in September of last year. But his campaign had started long before that when select soundbites were going viral from his fiery displays as finance critic in the House of Commons. At first glance, for dissidents, Poilievre looked like an opportunity to wrestle back power from the liberals. He has the charisma Scheer and O’Toole lacked in the last two cycles; he appears to play to right wing sensibilities on the pandemic and as a member of the House was already a well-established name in conservative circles. Poilievre has been groomed for power and by all measures is a stronger candidate then any of the conservatives since Harper. But as election season grows closer every day, the fire-spitting young bravado is changing his public face to become more electable and in doing so is falling into the trap that conservatives across the world so often do. That is, that Poilievre is beginning to punch right to garner centre and left minded voter’s support.
The most flagrant example of which occurred just a few days ago. Christine Anderson, a European Parliament member with the Alternative für Deutschland party, met with three members of the conservative caucus earlier this week. Anderson is well-regarded by Canadian dissidents for her support of the Freedom Convoy, using her platform in the European Parliament to lambast Justin Trudeau on an official visit to Europe last year. “Mr. Trudeau, you are a disgrace for any democracy” she said in response to Trudeau’s crackdown on the convoy, a sentiment echoed by the conservative opposition and even Poilievre. So why is it that Poilievre felt the need to rein in his conservative colleagues who met with Anderson and release a statement condemning her political views?
It was the outcry from one powerful lobby in Ottawa that even brought his attention to the matter. “We’re deeply concerned by CPC MPs @LeslynLewis @DeanAllisonMP @ColinCarrieCPC meeting with @AndersonAfDMdEP – a member of the far-right German AFD Party known for Islamophobic and anti-immigrant views. We raised this directly with @CPC_HQ” read a statement on Twitter from the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, the self-described mouthpiece for Jewish federations across Canada. What followed was a release from Poilievre’s media relations office “Christine Anderson’s views are vile and have no place in our politics. The MPs were not aware of this visiting Member of the European Parliament’s opinions, and they regret meeting with her”. To use a sports analogy, the CIJA threw Poilievre a softball and he knocked it out of the park. But to exactly who in the conservative party base is he appealing to in spurning what could’ve been a valuable international ally?
The answer, no one.
But more importantly for context, what “vile” views espoused by Anderson was Poilievre referencing? He didn’t explicitly say so we can only guess. Anderson has been a radical opponent to what European dissidents characterize as the Islamization of Europe. Immigration from the Middle East in the wake of the Syrian Civil war increased significantly. Anderson’s country of Germany accepted over 800,000 Syrian refugees alone causing much social unrest amongst native-born Germans. In a statement last year to the European Parliament Anderson decried Muslim countries oppression of women “For God’s sake, take a look around,” she said, imploring her colleagues to have an honest look at the state of women’s rights in the Middle East. “Call the devil by its name and stop using apologetic terms to downplay the true nature of the most despicable and horrific ideology women suffer from worldwide” the implication is that Anderson does not want this foreign religion to take root in Germany and she has every right to worry that a significant amount of Muslim immigration will aide in that takeover.
Relatively tame rhetoric for combating immigration couched in a reasonable request that Europeans be honest about the incompatibility of Islam with western values. This is, perhaps, what Poilievre means by Anderson’s “vile” political views.
The average Canadian conservative with the same set of facts presented would come to the same conclusions about Islam as Anderson. This isn’t rhetoric alien to Canadian politics, in fact, in one of our most populous provinces a ban on hijabs, turbans and other religious headdresses for public servants is already in effect. Francois Legault, the Premier of Quebec, defended the passing of this ban citing a need for secularism in public office, a western tradition dating back to the Westphalian treaty; the separation of church and state functions. So, would Pierre refer to his own conservative supporters as “vile” and “racist” for merely suggesting a defense of western values as Anderson is doing in Europe?
The answer, yes, but why?
That is a much deeper question that should be addressed at length, so I will spare the reader for now. But probing into who and why certain advocacy groups back the candidacy of Pierre Poilievre for Prime Minister and how that is shaping his campaign is worthy of a separate article. Without going into all that I’ll finish this off with a suggestion for the Poilievre campaign. Stop punching right to appeal to the centre voting bloc, the denunciation of MEP Christina Anderson is a naked play to appeal to the liberal orthodoxy of today and that will only serve to push out from your base, some of your most avid supporters. But will it gain the Poilievre campaign any traction with left-wing voters, that remains to be seen. But in a political climate where the list of what is “vile” and “racist” is ever increasing, I remain doubtful.