Federal Conservative leadership hopeful Poilievre targets elites, big government during Brandon, Man., visit

Conservative leadership hopeful Pierre Poilievre was in Brandon, Man., Thursday, rallying supporters under a platform he says is centred on freedom.

His appearance in southwestern Manitoba comes after Poilievre opted out of participating in the third Conservative Party leadership debate Wednesday.

“It’s a lot better to be out on the ground talking to the Prairie people than to be cooped up in a little hotel room with Jean Charest,” Poilievre said.

Poilievre spoke to a room packed full with hundreds of cheering supporters with a message centred on change and ensuring those in attendance cast a vote in the ongoing Conservative leadership race.

Man in blue suit grabs hand of bearded person in ballcap.
Poilievre greets supporters. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

During his speech to supporters Poilievre targeted privileged elites, government red tape, woke culture, carbon taxes, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, fellow leadership hopefuls, the World Economic Forum and government authoritarianism. 

“We are going to get government spending under control. You’ve been pinching your pennies long enough — it’s time the government started to pinch its pennies too,” Poilievre said.

“We’re going to bring back the free market and get rid of the crony capitalism that the Liberals have brought in place.”

Those in attendance who spoke to CBC cited hopes Poilievre would restore “freedom” to the country if he wins his leadership bid. Many described him as their only hope of restoring order to Canada and ensuring their voices are heard.

Poilievre will be continuing his Prairie tour with a stop in Morris, Man., Friday.

Close-up of an "I voted" sticker attached to plain shirt.
A rally attendee sports a stickers in support of Poilievre. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

The federal Conservative leadership race is heating up with more than 600,000 registered members, many of whom have already cast their ballots in the election, said Kelly Saunders, Brandon University political science associate professor.

A robust amount of members have cast ballots in advance of the election taking place Sept. 10, Saunders said.

Tapping into Conservative populism

Poilievre has tapped into what former Prime Minster Stephen Harper dubbed conservative populism, Saunders said. 

“It really taps into western alienation, western frustration with the big money elites and party elites and Ontario and Quebec,” Saunders said.

“Poilievre has really sort of tapped into that sort of as a modern-day version … there still is a lot, if not more than ever before, frustration with politicians, with so-called liberal elites, with Ontario, Quebec, that we all like to pick on this mistrust, this frustration with politicians.”

Poilievre’s aggressive campaign has created fissures in the party with his critical rhetoric of the Conservatives, she said, including the organizing of the third debate and his fellow candidates. 

She described it as aiming guns at his party which can be “dangerous” because it will make it difficult to create unity in the party if he wins the election.

“This has been a very acrimonious leadership race … and I put a lot of that at Poilievre’s feet,” Saunders said.

“How much he’s going to be able to achieve consensus and bridge over the divides within the party, which is always a challenge for the Conservatives. How much he’s going to be able to do that, since he’s to blame for a lot of, I think, the acrimony that we’ve seen.”

Saunders is unsure of what the future will look like in terms of stability or unity in the party after the divisive race is decided.

Man in glasses smiling, holding microphone.
Poilievre speaks to supporters in Brandon. (Chelsea Kemp/CBC)

She described it as a question mark when it comes to what he will be like as a leader of the opposition and potential future prime minister.

“Anger does not make for a prime minister-in-waiting,” she said. “If he does, in fact, pull off the leadership, I think, you know, the real work is going to begin for the party … convincing people across this country that he is prime minister material, you know, not just angry western Canadians.”

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