Pierre Poilievre has a double advantage, here’s why: Tom Mulcair

Pierre Poilievre knows how to laugh. I heard it myself.

On Monday Poilievre was asked to react to Jean Charest’s “attack,” calling him a career politician with no real life experience. Poilievre let out a belly laugh and simply remarked that Charest was elected to Parliament in…1984!

Charest may have lots of skills today but he didn’t have two lines on his CV when he was first elected. For him to be calling Poilievre a career politician was indeed laughable.

The race to become the sixth Conservative leader in seven years is shaping up to be a lot more fun than the previous races that produced Scheer and O’Toole as cannon fodder for Trudeau’s Liberals.

To begin with, Poilievre is young, energetic and driven. That will serve him well over the next six months as he traverses the country constantly. I went through a lengthy campaign to succeed Jack Layton and know first hand just how gruelling the exercise is. Canada is indeed huge and in a leadership race, you have to get into every nook and cranny to meet, greet and sell memberships.

Poilievre was in Quebec last weekend and did well. When you get 200 people in a hall in Trois-Rivières, you’ve generated some interest in your campaign.

Poilievre doesn’t shy away from controversy and when asked about meeting anti-vaxxers, reverts to a “good people on both sides” argument.

Poilievre will be able to count on a lot of second choice votes from Leslyn Lewis supporters. She is staunchly anti-abortion and will reel in large numbers of votes from social conservatives and some church groups. If she fails to progress through the successive ballot counts, most of her votes would stay on the right side of the ledger and favor Poilievre, who gets a political two for one. He’ll get her votes but won’t have to get ensnared in the trap that caught Scheer. Unlike Scheer, Poilievre will be able to avoid committing too heavily and won’t have to pander to the anti-choice voters.

As in the two previous leadership races, it will be a crowded field. The ranked ballot can produce surprises: most Conservatives will have chosen to forget that Maxime Bernier came within a hair’s breadth of leading the party when Andrew Scheer won.

What will be the most interesting to watch is who aligns with whom.

When MP Scott Aitchison launched his campaign he said he was running because he was fed up with partisan bickering and political games and said what was missing was leadership. One can be forgiven for assuming that the master stuntman, Pierre Poilievre, was in Aitchison’s crosshairs.

This race really is a battle for the heart and soul of a Janus-faced Party and the past leaders of its two philosophical sides could help decide its future. If and when Brian Mulroney and Stephen Harper declare, that battle will have been joined in earnest.

Charest would love to get Mulroney’s support and be seen as his potential successor in forming a majority Conservative government. Their relationship has not always been an easy one and it remains to be seen whether the old warhorse can be prevailed upon by their many mutual, and influential, friends to give his paternal blessing.

Harper is another matter. His disdain not only for Charest but for all that he represents is a matter of record. Harper scuppered the Progressive Conservatives because they were an anathema. The mushy middle is not for him. Harper is unlikely to remain silent, especially if it appears that Charest has a chance of beating Poilievre.

Almost as influential will be former Progressive Conservative leader Peter MacKay. He represents a younger generation and has had to sit this one out, having thus far been unable to repay his debt from his last run. He was the other side of the deal with Harper that gave us the newly minted Conservatives.

MacKay remains a force within the Party and his pronouncements are going to be studied for any hint of support for one candidate or another.

Harper has remained very loyal to MacKay, going so far as to help him fundraise to repay that campaign debt. If they were to wind up at loggerheads, it would be seen aa reversion to the status quo ante of Reform/Alliance versus PC’s and all bets would be off as to the future of the party.

Another major leadership candidate, Patrick Brown scored a major coup when he received the backing of highly respected MP Michelle Rempel Garner. Deeply experienced, brilliant in debate and highly personable, she will bring a lot to his campaign. She can be expected to help Brown with his communications lines and in debate prep.

Brown considers Charest one of his political mentors and he will not be the type to join in the predictable attacks against Charest’s spotty record on integrity issues. He will be playing to win, however and although their second choice votes will be largely interchangeable, Brown could well wind up selling more new memberships than Charest. This could ultimately mean that Charest’s votes would go over to Brown.

I’ve known Charest for decades and have a better understanding than most about his weaknesses and strengths. He doesn’t have Poilievre’s youth or energy but he is deeply experienced.

Tuesday’s agreement between Trudeau and Singh would put the next federal election in October 2025.

It creates a double advantage for Poilievre. He gets to slag the Liberals for turning “hard left” and, if he wins, he gets three years to hone his pitch in the House and prepare.

I’m sure Charest quickly understood what the Liberal-NDP agreement meant for him. I’m willing to bet the Liberal braintrust took it into account when they pushed for this deal.

Charest doesn’t even have a seat in the House. He’d be stuck spending three and a half years roaming the hallways like Banquo’s ghost. Not a great career plan for someone banking on a quick shot at becoming PM. He’s an incredible campaigner and no one should count him out, but this isn’t what he’d bargained for.

With Poilievre’s early lead, after bursting first out of the starting blocks, Charest has a lot of catching up to do. He’d have to sell 1,000 memberships a day if he hopes to win. A tall order.

Charest has won elections by doggedly catching up with heavily favored adversaries and doesn’t mind being likened to the “tortoise” in the well-known fable. “Hare” it should be remembered, is the French word for “hare,” after all…

Tom Mulcair was the leader of the federal New Democratic Party of Canada between 2012 and 2017.

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