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As a member of the lefty chattering class, I am not sure what concerns me more — the rise of Pierre Poilievre or the inability of his progressive critics to develop a positive counter-narrative to his message.

The main criticism of Poilievre from those on the left seems to be that he is an angry “nut” with bad policies.  Although he may be popular in some circles, they would argue that it tends to be with the not-too-bright and ill-informed. Clever people from downtown Toronto, Ottawa or other urban centres have no time for him.

Labelling someone early in the game can work — just ask Michael Ignatieff — and maybe Poilievre is simply a crank who is just stirring up a small fringe minority.

Perhaps there is nothing to worry about.

I am not convinced.

From where I sit, it looks like Pierre Poilievre has touched a nerve. Canadians are angry, exhausted, divided, and looking for answers. Poilievre is providing them. He has developed a narrative about how he would address Canada’s problems that has caused many to sit up and take notice.

So, how is the other side responding?

Let’s start with one of Poilievre’s most high-profile promises. If he were prime minister, he would fire the governor of the Bank of Canada for his apparent role in fuelling inflation.

“Ridiculous,” say his critics. Not only does Poilievre not understand basic economics but look at what happened when John Diefenbaker tried to fire the governor of the Bank of Canada in 1961.

I have news for my progressive friends: When gas is two bucks a litre and grown children can’t afford to move out of their parents’ basement, ordinary Canadians aren’t interested in history lessons from the 1960s.

Then there is the issue of restoring freedom — the central theme of Poilievre’s campaign. Once again, the progressive crowd dismisses Poilievre as touting crazy conspiracy theories about big government.

But hold on a minute. I don’t care where you stand on vaccines, lockdowns, and masks. The last few years has seen an unprecedented intrusion in the lives of Canadians. Governments have regulated and curtailed our activities like never before, all in the name of public health.

Where are the limits? What is the progressive narrative about the need to balance personal freedom with the common good? Where is there even an acknowledgement from those on the left that the level of government control over our lives during the pandemic has been scary for some Canadians and they understand and respect that fact?

What about natural resource development and climate change?

Like all Conservative leadership candidates, Poilievre is anxious to cancel the carbon tax and dramatically increase oil and gas production in Canada.

What is the left’s counter-narrative?

Why has it been seemingly impossible for progressives to develop an easy-to-understand story that explains how we need to balance short-term support for oil and gas through actions like the purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline and approval of Bay du Nord offshore oil project with a long-term commitment to fighting climate change?

How about defunding the CBC — a proposal that always produces cheers at any Conservative gathering?

Sure, enjoying Canada’s national network over a latte or a glass of chardonnay is a favourite pastime of every small “l” liberal.  But is it just me, or has the CBC increasingly turned into a northern version of MSNBC? Shouldn’t we be concerned that a big chunk of the population doesn’t see their views represented on our taxpayer-funded network?

Could progressives not even acknowledge the concern and outline a way forward to improve our national broadcaster?

And yes, Poilievre appears to have an unhealthy obsession with cryptocurrency and its growing presence in the global economy.

But how do progressives propose to deal with this emerging phenomenon?

What about the whole style of political discourse these days?

Poilievre claims that Canada is governed by “a small group of ruling elites who claim to possess moral superiority and the burden of instructing the rest of us how to live our lives.”

Ouch!

Be honest all you lefties. Can you see how some people (maybe many people) might view progressives that way? What are you going to do about presenting a style of leadership that is open, prepared to listen and willing to engage?

I end this column where I began. Maybe Pierre Poilievre will ultimately go nowhere.

But be careful. Although I am generally uncomfortable with comparisons between Canadian politicians and Donald Trump, there is one point worth making: Love him or hate him, Trump entered the 2016 election campaign with a whole range of easy-to-understand solutions to the apparent ills facing the United States. The counter-narrative from the other side left much to be desired.

Let’s not make the same mistake here in Canada.

John Milloy, a former Ontario cabinet minister, is the director of the Centre for Public Ethics at Martin Luther University College and practitioner in residence in Wilfrid Laurier University’s Political Science department.  His most recent book, Politics and Faith in a Polarized World was published by Novalis in 2021. John can be reached at jmilloy@luther.wlu.ca or follow him on Twitter @John_Milloy.

 

The views, opinions and analyses expressed in the articles on National Newswatch are those of the contributor(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publishers.
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