Pierre Poilievre’s ability to criticize the prime minister is an opportunity and a vulnerability, says political science professor Barry Cooper.
In an interview with the Western Standard, the University of Calgary professor said it’s perfect timing for the 42-year-old Carleton MP to lead the Conservatives against Trudeau.
“He really has an opportunity. Part of it is generational too. He looks as young as Trudeau…which is I think, in his favour. And he certainly has a huge target if he can focus his rhetoric in such a way that doesn’t make him look like he’s exaggerating. And I mean, how can you exaggerate the idiocy of the prime minister? I don’t know how you’d be able to do that,” Cooper said.
“The prime minister has shown himself to be what some of us knew all along for several years, but he’s shown it to everybody. So, he’s got a big target. I hope he hits it. (Trudeau was) running away and hiding when faced with the truckers in Ottawa. Bullies are always cowards. Everybody’s known that. And he certainly has shown himself to be a bully. Well, now he’s shown himself to be a chicken as well. It’s just perfect.”
Cooper said ousted party leader Erin O’Toole’s failure to harness the public demonstration of opposition to Trudeau was his downfall.
“If there’s a single failure of leadership in his, fortunately, brief time at the helm of that of the party, that was it. It was handed to him on a silver platter, and he could have done all kinds of things to make Trudeau look bad, but he didn’t. So then the truckers managed to do it on their own,” Cooper said.
“There are other things that are still problems in the country that are not addressed by simply getting rid of the Liberals. But yeah, if there’s going to be a first step that would be it.”
Former CPC leader Andrew Scheer named Poilievre his finance critic in 2017. Successor O’Toole put Ed Fast in the post February 10, 2021 and shifted Poilievre to be the shadow critic of jobs and industry. However, Poilievre continued to rail against federal mismanagement of finances in comments to the House, the media, and his 170,000 followers on YouTube. On November 9, he was restored as finance critic.
On February 5, the married father of two announced, “I’m running for Prime Minister to give you back control of your life” in a three-minute YouTube video. Poilievre said “big and bossy” government was benefitting a “small financial elite” but “attacked small businesses, truckers and other hardworking Canadians.” He pledged to work with supporters to “make Canadians the freest people on earth, with freedom to build a business without red tape or heavy tax.”
Cooper believes Poilievre will have to soften his image to insulate himself from Liberal misrepresentation of his character.
“I actually talk to some of my pals who know him and who are, let’s say, in positions of greater responsibility than I am. And they’re a little concerned…He had this reputation, which I think he enjoyed, of being a ‘pitbull,’ which is fine…His vulnerability is that same attribute, however,” Cooper said.
After initially indicating he would run for party leadership a year ago, Poilievre backed out and cited family reasons. Cooper believes his chances are even better this time because O’ Toole’s failure as a centrist lets Poilievre be unabashedly conservative.
“That puts a lot of pressure on him because he can simply turn into the cliche of a right-winger. He also has to show that he’s not just a one-trick pony and that he’s not just the polar opposite to the predecessor. I don’t know whether he’d be able to do it. I hope so. It seems to me to be what his challenge is,” Cooper said.
“A lot of his, let’s say, rhetorical power, may, in fact, have been a function of his relative youth. So, we’ll just see how sensible he can present himself. He probably is a fairly sensible guy. It’s just a question of whether or not he can show that to the rest of the country.”
Lee Harding is a Saskatchewan-based contributor to Western Standard.