Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre is positioning his party for the future with a promise to return to the past.
In a public speech to the Conservative caucus Sunday, Poilievre laid all the troubles of the country – housing affordability, inflation, crime rates and uncertainty on the world stage – at the feet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
A Conservative government, he charged, would roll back the clock to 2015 when Trudeau was first elected.
“Let me be very clear and let me say it again and again. Conservatives will fight throughout this session to axe the (carbon) tax, build the homes, fix the budget, stop the crime,” Poilievre told his MPs during the televised speech.
The Conservative leader has good reason to be bullish. According to Abacus Data’s latest tracking numbers, the Conservatives are leading in every region of the country outside of Quebec – up 15 percentage points nationally over the governing Liberals, with 40 per cent support to the Liberals’ 25 per cent.
In the crucial battleground of Ontario, Abacus had the Conservatives at 43 per cent support to the Liberals’ 29 per cent – a sign that Poilievre’s party would likely win a majority government if an election were held today.
In his speech, Poilievre promised to focus on four key areas – doing away with the federal carbon tax, enticing more home construction, “fixing” the federal budget and “stopping” crime.
Abacus CEO David Coletto said the Conservatives relentless focus on those talking points have registered with the Canadian public, who view both the country and the world as heading in the wrong direction. But Coletto added that there’s a sizable part of the Canadian electorate that is unsure what a Conservative government would actually do.
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“They’ve clearly been very effective at making it clear that they’ll eliminate the carbon tax … that effort has paid dividends,” Coletto said.
“On the one hand, I’d say they’ve moved the dial on some issues. But I would say, my read of it is there’s a large group of the public, including many who say today they’d vote Conservative, who aren’t entirely sure what (a Conservative government) would do. And that’s telling me that’s probably a subset who are saying they’re going to vote Conservative today, largely because they’re being repelled away from the Liberals than something that’s making them want to vote Conservative.”
According to Abacus’ data, the Conservatives now lead among women voters – a traditional source of strength for the Liberal Party – with 37 per cent support compared to 25 per cent for the Liberals and 23 per cent for the New Democrats.
Canada appears to be bucking a trend in other Western democracies. The Financial Times reported Friday that an ideological gap between men and women has emerged in countries like the United States and United Kingdom, with women gravitating to progressive parties while men are turning further right.
The last time the Conservatives had such a pronounced lead among women voters was before Stephen Harper won a majority election in 2011.
“You’d probably have to go back to the Harper majority when the Conservatives were competitive or leading among women,” Coletto said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that they are at least somewhat more popular today than they have been in the past with that demographic.”
As the House of Commons returns, the Conservatives find themselves in a target-rich environment. The public inquiry into foreign interference also begins Monday, potentially giving the opposition more ammunition to attack the Liberal government’s perceived inaction on the file.
Annual inflation ticked up to 3.4 per cent in December, according to the Bank of Canada, from 3.1 per cent in previous months. While the Bank is signalling interest rate cuts are in the offing, it’s not yet clear when they will arrive. And houses are not getting cheaper.
While the Conservatives are promising solutions, they’ve been reluctant to lay them out ahead of the next federal election, expected to be called in 2025.
Coletto said the national numbers could tighten once Canadians are faced with an actual choice for who leads them. The sustained surge in Conservative polling, he said, has more to do with voters’ anger and fatigue with the Liberal Party than with Poilievre’s proposed plans.
“If I try to explain the Conservative lead right now, it’s mostly about how people feel about the economy, the world and the Liberals,” said Coletto, noting Conservative strategists will likely disagree with him.
“Incumbents all over the world are getting hammered because of inflation and the economic situation. So this is not, and is still not and I don’t think it ever has been, Poilievre mania. This is not everybody loves the guy and they’re piling into the Conservative tent because of him. I think it’s mainly because they’re rejecting the Liberals.”
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