Pierre Poilievre wins conservative leadership race

OTTAWA — Pierre Poilievre decisively won the leadership of the Conservative Party on Saturday night, setting the tone for a new era in Canadian politics.

His stunning and substantial first-vote victory marks a generational change for conservative politics and a resolute endorsement of his campaign’s central strategy: that reaching the disconnected and disaffected is the path to power.

“This is not my victory. It is yours,” the new leader said to loud cheers moments after his victory.

Poilievre captured 68.15 percent of the available points in the match; its closest competitor was former Quebec Prime Minister and progressive conservative leader Jean Charest at 16 percent.

In third place was MP Leslyn Lewis, fourth place former Ontario MPP Roman Baber and last place MP Scott Aitchison.

Poilievre, 43, never took his foot off the gas during a seven-month campaign fueled by the anger and frustration of a nation emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, unsure of what comes next.

The seven-year-old Ottawa MP drew hundreds of thousands of people from communities as diverse as the so-called “Freedom Convoy” movement to the upper echelons of the conservative establishment.

His campaign had the support of the founder of today’s Conservative Party – former leader and Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in whose cabinet Poilievre served.

Yet his victory nonetheless marks a transition from the analog days of the Harper Tories to a new way of thinking about and applying conservative principles for the digital age.

Many of the policies Poilievre has campaigned for—cutting taxes, reducing oil and gas production regulations, streamlining immigration and rebuilding Canada’s manufacturing capacity—are not new in the conservative policy book.

But his ability to distill those concepts into messages — and often tweets and videos — that resonated with hundreds of thousands of Canadians put him way ahead of his competitors from the competition’s early days.

All those who flocked behind him have a central concern, he said Saturday night — that they cannot move forward in their lives.

“There are people in this country who are just hanging by a thread,” he said.

“These are citizens of our country. We are their servants, we owe them hope.”

Still, Poilievre’s attacks on the Bank of Canada, his propensity for conspiracy theories around the World Economic Forum and his support for the anti-vaccine mandate movement upset some centrist conservatives.

Many fear that his anti-establishment rhetoric — a main theme was the removal of the “gatekeepers” — will alienate the middle section of the political spectrum, where the majority of voters live.

Ed Fast, a Conservative MP and Charest supporter who lost his job as a financial critic after criticizing Poilievre’s economic policies, said in an interview that he still sees himself as part of the team.

But Fast says that doesn’t mean he’ll stop “speaking the truth to power,” and he hopes he can help shape the policies and ideas the conservative team will bring to Canadians.

“We are all a conservative family, we can disagree,” he said.

Poilievre paid tribute to the other candidates in the contest, thanking them for their ideas and contributions — even Charest, whom he insulted and attacked during the seven-month contest, calling him a liberal and corrupt.

“Thank you for your services to our country,” Poilievre said, also referring to Charest’s work to fend off Quebec’s separatist movement during his time as the province’s helm.

Charest did so as leader of the Quebec Liberals, the only federalist party in the province at the time. He left the event Saturday night without speaking to reporters.

“For supporters of all these beautiful candidates, I open my arms to you,” said Poilievre.

“We are one party and serve one country.”

Poilievre’s victory will give the party new energy and direction as it now embarks on the ultimate goal of defeating the Liberals under Justin Trudeau and winning the government.

And crushing his competitors gives him a clear mandate to keep going — Baber himself admitted that when he left the convention center after the results were announced.

“I am confident that he will continue to live up to his word by defending choice and our freedom of expression,” he said.

In some ways, Poilievre’s victory echoed Trudeau’s landslide victory of the Liberal party leadership race in 2013, a victory that breathed new life into the near-dying party.

Just two years later, it would defeat the Conservatives under Harper and win the government.

Liberal Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc attended the event on Saturday and said his party congratulates Poilievre and does not “underestimate” his victory.

Winning a leadership race is not the same as winning a general election, LeBlanc said, and the new Conservative leader will have to deliver on his “reckless and irresponsible” promises.

“He now has a responsibility in our view to provide solutions that are not simplistic and irresponsible,” he said.

“Saying that the best measure to protect Canadians from inflation is to buy bitcoin or cryptocurrencies doesn’t feel like serious economic policy. Sacking the Governor of the Bank of Canada is something no Conservative Prime Minister would ever have done.”

Those particular ideas were not reflected in Poilievre’s inaugural address to party members, though he reiterated other campaign promises, such as speeding up the recognition of diplomas for newcomers, building more houses and lowering taxes.

The night was darker than the party had hoped, in the shadow of Queen Elizabeth II’s death on Thursday. At the beginning of the evening, a tribute was paid to the Queen and Poilievre also acknowledged her death in his comments.

As a conservative leader, Poilievre is now also leader of His Majesty’s loyal opposition.

The ranks of the Conservative Party grew to 678,000 over the course of the race, a number higher than the last two leadership campaigns combined.

Of those, 417,987 people cast valid votes, a figure the party says is the largest number of people ever to vote in a party’s leadership election.

The party uses a ranked vote and who wins is determined by points.

Each ride in Canada is awarded a maximum of 100 points, and how much a candidate receives is based on their share of the vote in that ride.

Ahead of Saturday night’s results, Aitchison – who eventually finished last – said he was glad the race was over and the party could now get to work.

He said the size of the membership indicates the need for political change in Canada.

“I see it as a pretty broad swath of Canadians who are frustrated and fed up,” he said.

With files by Tonda MacCharles.

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