Here’s why conservatives fear Pierre Poilievre

OTTAWA — Leading Conservative candidate Pierre Poilievre’s promise to fire the governor of the Bank of Canada split the caucus Wednesday as concerns grow about the party’s future after his contentious leadership run ends.

The party’s financial critic, Ed Fast, was sacked from his post after telling reporters Wednesday morning that he was “deeply concerned” by a promise to fire Tiff Macklem if Poilievre became prime minister, thereby interfering with the independence of the central bank.

Poilievre’s promise puts the party’s credibility at risk, the former Conservative cabinet minister also said.

“It’s fair to ask questions, to demand solutions to the skyrocketing cost of living,” Fast said. “But we also have to respect the institutions that have been given independence, to ensure that they function free from political interference, and that is my great concern.”

Fast is co-chair of former Quebec Premier Jean Charest’s Tory leadership campaign, but he made it clear He was speaking Wednesday in his capacity as a financial critic.

Being seen to use his position to speak out against Poilievre sparked a furious back-and-forth within the caucus and on Wednesday night, the party’s interim leader, Candice Bergen, said in a statement that she would step down.

“Ed has publicly stated his support for one of the candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada and would like to be able to offer more dedicated support to that team,” the statement said.

Fast took over as Poilievre’s financial critic after the seven-term Ottawa MP launched his leadership bid in February.

Fast also took over after then-leader Erin O’Toole removed Poilievre from the post of finance critic in early 2021. That was a surprise demotion for Poilievre, who had been a fierce and prominent critic of former finance minister Bill Morneau.

Sources told the Star that what prompted that shakeup was a similar concern to the problem some Conservatives are now raising with Poilievre: his economic rhetoric. He was kicked out after a social media campaign he was running at the time, to “stop the great reset”, which was interpreted as echoing a conspiracy theory about the World Economic Forum planning a global takeover, was perceived as a political liability for Conservatives.

But in an attempt to keep the peace within the party after the blows O’Toole received in the 2021 election, Poilievre was re-elected to the post.

Since then, he has been unrelenting in his criticism of the Liberal government’s fiscal approach. His call to fire Macklem stems from his stated belief that inflation has spiked due to a bond-buying program initiated by the Bank of Canada to support billions of dollars in pandemic spending by the federal government. .

The central theme of Poilievre’s campaign is a promise to eliminate the “gatekeepers” he blames for rising costs of living, and he has dismissed critics of his approach as disconnected elites.

Marilyn Gladu, a member of parliament from Ontario and a Poilievre supporter, reiterated that view on Wednesday.

“The more the liberal media gets excited and upset about Pierre Poilievre, the more I know they are worried that he will win,” he said.

Poilievre is the presumptive favorite in the leadership race. Among the six contenders, he also has the most parliamentarians on his side.

That support is complicated.

Several MPs have privately told the Star that their support reflects a demand from their horsemen, the grassroots members who help MPs raise funds and get elected, and that they see in Poilievre a champion of the Conservative cause.

But some of those same MPs also say they personally wish Poilievre would, in the words of one, “tone down the Bank of Canada.”

In addition to the risk of undermining the bank’s independence, some cite the historical conservative respect for institutions. Others worry that the anti-establishment vote Poilievre seeks will drive away centrist voters, especially when it comes to his support for the so-called “Freedom Convoy.”

Although Poilievre has denied the racist and threatening behavior of some convoy participants, his supporters know that the Liberals will nonetheless weaponize their broader support for the movement.

Those who do not support Poilievre are candid about their dislike and call for efforts to elect “anyone but Poilievre” to the highest office.

“I’d rather have four more years of Justin Trudeau than a Poilievre prime minister,” said a long-time operative, who is not involved in any leadership campaign but was granted anonymity due to his work in the private sector.

But Poilievre is not the only candidate for leader that has MPs concerned.

Brampton Mayor Patrick Brown has reputation problems of his own, even as his campaign also signs up thousands of new party members.

The former Ontario PC leader’s checkered past, which includes questions about a loan from a party candidate and allegations of sexual misconduct, which Brown denies, makes some MPs visibly cringe at the prospect he could win, though he has some support within the caucus. .

Meanwhile, Charest has the support of numerous Quebec parliamentarians, but his relationship with the party’s western flank is tenuous. In addition to a rocky relationship with former Conservative leader Stephen Harper, he supported a Quebec gun registry and the price of carbon, two toxic issues on the prairies.

Fears are also being expressed about Leslyn Lewis, the freshman MP running for the leadership for the second time thanks to her socially conservative convictions. Her desire to regulate abortion is seen as a total failure by many members of the Conservative caucus.

A victory by any of those four could see a large number of incumbent MPs either publicly resign or simply quietly opt out of seeking re-election, a move that is not entirely abnormal after a run for party leadership.

But there are also fears that entire factions of the party could break away to form their own groups, in a repeat of the Progressive Conservative-Reform split of the late 1990s, several Conservatives told the Star.

Scott Aitchison, the two-term MP from Parry Sound-Muskoka, and Independent MP Roman Baber are also on the ballot.

Surveying the leadership landscape, Conservative MPs routinely use phrases like “rubbish dump fire” to survey the scene, and private conversations about the race are becoming more heated.

At the core of them is concern that neither candidate can quickly clean up the blood spilled on the campaign trail.

But as Gerard Deltell, one of the party’s senior Quebec statesmen, noted that the choice of that person is ultimately up to party members.

“We will live with the new leader,” Deltell said, “and try to do the best we can.”

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