MP PIERRE POILIEVRE BECOMES CAPITAL’S LAST CONSERVATIVE STANDING
After John Baird left politics last spring, Stephen Harper made Pierre Poilievre the face of the Conservative government in local Ottawa affairs. Now, as the last Tory MP standing in the capital after his party’s election loss on Monday, he’s the Conservatives’ everything.
“I think it’s actually good to have at least one member of the opposition in the roster of national-capital MPs,” he says. “It’s interesting to note I’m not only the only Conservative, I’m the only non-Liberal, with Paul Dewar having been defeated, in the whole city.”
Which is a little awkward. Instant autopsies on the Harper government across the land mention Poilievre by name as an avatar of Conservative jerkiness. Well, him and Dean Del Mastro and Paul Calandra — all three of them parliamentary secretaries to Harper at various points, all three of them forced to give teary speeches in the House of Commons over the years about their own excesses.
For Poilievre, it was insulting aboriginals on the very day Harper gave a national apology for residential schools, exactly the kind of shtick that made him notorious for having only one mode: Attack.
Del Mastro resigned after being convicted of election fraud and Calandra lost his seat in Markham last Monday. But Poilievre won, even though voters turned up en masse to turn out his caucus-mates.
It was surely a closer call than he’d have liked, Poilievre’s closest since he came out of nowhere (well, Calgary) to beat Liberal defence minister David Pratt in 2004 with a margin of fewer than 2,000 votes.
Opposition isn’t totally foreign to him — his first two years in Parliament were spent across from Paul Martin. But even then, the Conservatives were on the march. This will be his first experience of a position of weakness. He can’t be the humble representative of a party that’s learning from its mistakes and a sneering fink at the same time.
But if the Conservatives had had to choose one of their number to remain, Poilievre might have been the pick regardless.
“I know the major issues that affect the entire city, having been the regional minister and having been a member since 2004,” he says. “So I think I’m well-placed to ensure there’s reasonable and thoughtful criticism of the government, where warranted.”
As regional minister, if only since last spring, he also had some dealings with Gatineau — useful now that the nearest Conservative MP in Quebec represents a riding closer to Quebec City than to Parliament.
And Poilievre would like people to recognize he has a second setting. “I think the larger picture of my work — locally I was the regional minister that announced funding for the next phase of LRT. In my time as NCC minister, the organization was able to negotiate a solution on LRT under the western leg of the river parkway. I’ve shown I can conciliate where necessary.”
That doesn’t mean the old Poilievre is gone forever — “I think it’s valuable to have a strong critic for the new government,” he says — but notably, he passes on a chance to make a pre-emptive attack on the Liberals.
Asked what particular things he’ll be concerned about from Justin Trudeau’s Liberals when it comes to the capital region and he takes a long pause.
“I’m going to let them get a start,” he says. “I don’t want to criticize them for things they haven’t done. I’m just going to watch them carefully and I don’t want to impugn them for actions they haven’t taken.”
Behind the scenes, Poilievre can be a better guy than his public persona suggests. Mayor Jim Watson says he found Poilievre easier to work with than his predecessor John Baird.
Watson actually gives Poilievre credit for showing up at a midcampaign meeting of candidates to talk city issues at City Hall, one rescheduled after no Conservatives attended a first one but that attracted only Poilievre and no-hoper Dev Balkissoon. The makeup meeting conflicted with a Harper-led rally elsewhere in Ottawa, which Watson figures was just unlucky, the national campaign obliviously stepping on a local plan.
“As the regional minister, he really should have been with the leader, but he was here,” Watson says.
That’s something to build on, at least.
I think I’m well-placed to ensure there’s reasonable and thoughtful criticism of the government, where warranted.