Pierre Poilievre’s courting of the far-right will have consequences 

OPINION: Christine Anderson shows the delicate game the Conservative leader is playing 

Federal Conservative Party leader Pierre Poilievre has been caught in a very awkward situation with his caucus. In trying to balance his appeal to both the far-right elements in the country while still hoping to appeal to enough mainstream voters to find a sustainable path to winning in the next federal election, he’s learning that it’s a lot harder to do than he may have initially thought. This has all come to a head in recent weeks after three of his MPs met with German far-right Member of the European Parliament Christine Anderson during her Canadian tour, forcing him to try and keep both sides of his base happy, and it didn’t go over well.

Anderson is a member of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, and has made statements downplaying the Holocaust, against Islam and supporting the far-right Pegida movement, on top of being a vocal anti-vax conspiracy theorist. She even made a transphobic post in response to Justin Trudeau’s declaration that trans women are women on International Women’s Day last week. 

Anderson became a darling of the right in Canada when she delivered a scathing speech about Trudeau and his pandemic response after he was invited to address the European Parliament in Brussels last summer, and the anti-vax movement in this country quickly became devotees of her. Soon after, Colin Carrie, an anti-vax MP who was barred from the House of Commons when there was a vaccine mandate in place, was quoting and praising her in debate (via Zoom, of course). Carrie was one of the three MPs who had lunch with Anderson, and it was wholly unbelievable when he later said that he didn’t know what she really stood for. Carrie pretended to take responsibility for his actions in meeting her in a clearly insincere apology that frankly too many people, particularly in the media, took to be genuine. 

The other two MPs at the dinner, Leslyn Lewis and Dean Allison, were not so apologetic, and even went so far as to distance themselves from the apology the party put out on their behalf. Lewis tweeted that she felt that Trudeau was a bigger racist than Anderson, given his history of dressing in blackface, while Allison was found to be communicating with a known white supremacist in this country to disavow the party’s apology. None of those three MPs faced any formal consequences for the meeting with Anderson.

For his part, Poilievre has tried to be too cute by half, first by denouncing Anderson by way of a spokesperson in a statement to friendly columnist Brian Lilley in the Toronto Sun, but never doing so personally or being seen to do so, which is odd for someone who has been cultivating a massive social media presence and who makes a point of using Twitter as his primary platform for delivering messages. When the first opportunity arose for media to question him in person, he adopted Lewis’s whataboutery in condemning Trudeau’s history of blackface (to say nothing that Trudeau has since apologized and done more for antiracism than any prime minister in the history of this country), and said nothing about Anderson at all.


But even more curiously, it was leaked to the Toronto Star that at the first caucus meeting since the incident occurred, Poilievre was quick to bawl out his caucus behind closed doors. Apparently there, he made the point that if any Liberals had been caught meeting with someone who had clearly demonstrated Islamophobic views that Anderson has, that they would rightly have been criticized, so it was incumbent upon them to shape up and not make any such mistakes in the future. But again, this was all behind closed doors; you have never seen him say anything bad about Anderson, because that appears to be the plan.

Even his disavowal-by-proxy did earn Poilievre scathing reviews from far-right figures in this country, who called him “Pussyvere” and other such epithets (Anderson herself denounced Poilievre as a “sellout”). But it’s fairly obvious that Poilievre is hoping that this will blow over and that nobody can point to any video of him saying anything bad about a figure like Anderson. This is because he sees his path to victory in an election by playing to the far-right, currently occupied by Maxime Bernier’s personality cult known as the People’s Party of Canada, rather than by moderating and playing to mainstream voters.

The lesson that Poilievre and certain of his advisors took from the last two elections is that trying to appeal to the mainstream has gotten the party nowhere, never mind the fact that their previous two leaders, Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole, had other negatives working against them that weren’t about trying to appeal to the mainstream. Scheer couldn’t shake his personal social conservatism and was found to have embellished his resumé while outright lying about Trudeau’s policies, while O’Toole had a bad habit of saying contradictory things, depending on who he was in the room with, and pretended that nobody could hear him contradicting himself over and over again. It’s hard to trust a leader who will tell you what you want to hear when you’re in the room with him, but says the complete opposite thing later in the day.

Instead, Poilievre hopes that he can capture PPC votes by winking and nodding to the far-right, whether it’s with the so-called “Freedom Convoy” movement, by promoting conspiracy theories in the House of Commons or by publicly turning a blind eye to the Christine Andersons of the world. The thing to remember is polling data showed that PPC voters were not so much disaffected conservatives as they were people who tended not to vote at all, which means that Poilievre finds them to be an accessible demographic that he can try to co-opt. And it’s why we’re seeing the real attempt to shift the Overton window of what is considered acceptable discourse further to the extremes.

The other parties in Canada have yet to find a strategy to combat Poilievre in this—they can be dismissed by Poilievre and his online flying monkeys as being “woke virtue signallers,” or in the case of the Liberals, looking like they are desperately trying to deflect away from their current problem of foreign interference allegations. But there is always a cost to flirting with the far-right, and we’re seeing it especially in queer and trans communities as our rights are under attack in the places where the far-right is drawing inspiration from, and we can’t count on Poilievre to defend our rights if these attacks start manifesting more broadly in this country, because he is too beholden to that voter base to try and win power. Courting the far-right will have consequences, and too many people are simply ignoring what is about to come.

Dale Smith is a freelance journalist in the Parliamentary Press Gallery and author of The Unbroken Machine: Canada's Democracy in Action.

Read More About:
Politics, Power, Opinion, Transphobia, Canada

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