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‘Adopting Canada’s Progressive Conservative Strategy Won’t Save Rishi Sunak’s Party’

As the UK Tory Party haemorrhages support among young voters, Pierre Poilievre, Leader of the Canadian Conservative Party, is moving the dial in the opposite direction

Pierre Poilievre addresses the national Conservative caucus on Parliament Hill in Ottawa in January 2024. Photo: The Canadian Press/Alamy

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Across Britain, political commentators have been singing Pierre Poilievre’s praises. Poilievre, Leader of Canada’s Progressive Conservative Party, now leads Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the polls by a 17-point margin. In all likelihood, he will be the next prime minister of Canada. 

At first glance, Poilievre seems like UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s foil – something many commentators in Britain have picked up on.

Both are young Conservatives who rose to prominence in 2022 – one as opposition leader, the other as Prime Minister. Both have ascended in similar economic and political climates – in which issues like COVID, immigration, inflation, and an overheated housing market were front and centre. 

Both moved the needle some 20 points for under-thirties – but only one, Poilievre, moved it in the right direction. 

Perfect opposites, Poilievre has ushered in a new and almost unprecedented category of young Conservative voters, while Sunak has nearly eliminated them – with only one in 10 Brits under 40 reportedly planning to vote Conservative in the next election.  

It is tempting to suggest – as many British columnists have – that Sunak and the Conservatives should be modelling their political calculus on Poilievre. But this is a misreading of the political situation in Canada.

Poilievre’s policy approach and rhetoric hasn’t won over Canadians in any meaningful sense. Rather, Canadians have fallen out of love with Trudeau in a big way. What’s more, endeavours by Sunak’s Conservatives to descend into populism have mostly backfired.


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There is no understating how disliked Trudeau is by many Canadians. Two-thirds look upon him unfavourably, and half believe he should resign before the next election.

Because Canadian news doesn’t travel particularly well, this is easy to overlook. To some on this side of the Atlantic, Trudeau still appears the fashionable young progressive – or the beloved, beady-eyed “Calvin Klein model” – he appeared to be in 2015. 

At the moment, the country finds itself embroiled in a $60 million dollar corruption scandal that led to a precipitous decline in Liberal favourability when the news surfaced last November. Colloquially known as ‘ArriveScam’, the scandal involves what appears to be reckless overspending on a mid-pandemic app created by government contractors, which was meant to speed up border declarations. But his is just one of a long string of scandals that has plagued Trudeau’s administration.

Canada’s souring on the Liberals, then, has little to do with what Poilievre has done well and everything to do with what Trudeau’s administration has done poorly, unethically and scandalously

No doubt, Poilievre is a skilled politician. But the economic and social vicissitudes of recent years have made the opposition’s job in both Canada and the UK a sinecure.

Just like in Canada, Labour’s success in the polls is in no small part owing to the Conservatives floundering, what with ‘Partygate’, Liz Truss’ fall from grace, and a unlawful Rwanda plan all weighing heavily on the minds of the British electorate. 

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Those who believe Sunak has something to learn from Poilievre often raise housing affordability, which has long been the sine qua non of Poilievre’s campaign. Yet, in all likelihood, Canada and Britain’s respective housing crises would be in similar shape with Poilievre or Keir Starmer at the helm. The post-pandemic inflationary run that drove up housing prices in countries like Canada and the UK was mostly unrelated to which party was in power. 

When commentators suggest that Poilievre’s message is resonating with Canadians, what they really mean is that his rhetoric has struck a chord. Some might recall a video of Poilievre that went viral last year, in which he calmly rebuffed a journalist while eating an apple. The video is paradigmatic of Poilievre’s approach to politics. That is, he incessantly calls for ‘common-sense’ government without wading too far into the weeds of what that might entail.  

Is that what Brits want of Sunak? Because Poilievre’s brash, populist tone surely resembles that of another British politician – the one who claimed to be “made of Gregg’s” – who fell sharply out of favour with voters by the time he stepped down in 2022.

Even if that is what British Conservatives want, Sunak couldn’t pull it off. The Prime Minister is a technocrat through and through, not a populist. He promised a government of “integrity, professionalism and accountability” but has not delivered. An eleventh-hour embrace of populism by the Conservatives is only likely to set the party back further.

Jonah Prousky is a London-based Canadian commentator. He has written for Canada publications including the Globe and Mail, CBC, Toronto Star, Canadian Affairs, and Calgary Herald

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