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Canadian Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre, who has charged ahead of the prime minister in the polls, seized upon rising grievances over the cost of living in a speech to a jubilant party Friday evening.
Poilievre appealed to “ordinary” Canadians and laid the blame for their struggle to afford housing, food and gasoline firmly at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s feet in his first address to the Tory policy convention since he swept the leadership race last year.
“Trudeau forces the same people who suffer from his inflation to pay higher interest rates to stop it,” Poilievre said to the 2,500 Conservative delegates gathered in Quebec City for what the party branded the “common sense convention.”
He outlined his plan to bring down “inflationary deficits” and interest rates, which are at a 22-year high with a five per cent overnight rate. “When I am prime minister, we will adopt a dollar-for-dollar law,” he promised as a way to force the government to find a dollar of savings for each new dollar of spending.
Poilievre, a career politician who served as a cabinet minister in Stephen Harper’s government, has skyrocketed into Canadian public consciousness with his rants against inflation and bombastic claims such as threatening to fire Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem if elected.
In his speech, Poilievre said he would end bonuses for “incompetent” central bankers and government executives who “fail to do their jobs” and enforce the Bank of Canada’s low-inflation mandate. “It will mean the bank has one job and one job only: low inflation,” he said. “Not printing money for politicians to squander.”
He also promised to speed up approval studies for large projects, and grant permits for natural gas export plants.
His message, often simply boiled down to Canada is “broken,” has resonated more forcefully with Canadians as wealth inequality grows and housing prices become increasingly unmoored from local incomes. Some polls have his party 10 points or more ahead of the Liberal Party of Trudeau, whose own popularity has sunk to career lows.
For the first two of the three-day convention, the party managed to sweep away issues brought by social conservatives, such as the rights of children and youth who identify as transgender, and focus on the rising cost of living.
A former federal Conservative minister known as a moderate, Peter MacKay, called for the party’s unity, endorsing Poilievre. “Just-inflation. Just-transition. When will he just-go away?” he quipped to the crowd. “It’s time for a new leadership and a new government that puts people first.”
Even though Poilievre is enjoying a current surge in popularity, an election could still be two years away and what his supporters are already calling a “blue wave” may well fade away. Trudeau’s minority Liberal government inked a deal with the left-wing New Democratic Party to stay in power until 2025 and it’s unlikely either party will pull the plug any time soon.
Trudeau has assured Canadians his government is working to bring down the cost of living and decried Poilievre for “stirring up anger” and voting against programs meant to help lower-income people, such as a national dental-care plan.
On Friday, a member of his government even took the unusual step of showing up at the convention to criticize the Tory leader. Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault told reporters that Poilievre has “no plan” to fight climate change and a Conservative government would set Canada back on environmental issues.
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