To win power, Pierre Poilievre will rely on an effective, dangerous playbook.
Masquerading as an anti-establishment populist, he aims to ride anger over inequality and the cost of living into office—then hand the keys to the one percent.
Martin Lukacs explains his playbook and his agenda.
Pierre Poilievre bills himself a man of the people, who’s taking on the powerful, standing up for the working class, with a penchant for speaking like a popular rebellion leader… from 14th century England.
Poilievre is tapping into anger at inequality and the soaring cost of living while pointing his finger at the ruling class that is responsible.
There’s just one hitch: Pierre Poilievre has spent his entire political career serving the very elites he vilifies.
So what explains his approach? It’s called fake populism: when politicians ride ordinary people’s outrage against the establishment into office, then hand the keys to the one percent.
But don’t take my word for it. Poilievre has been consistently clear about his agenda since he was 16 years old.
When most high schoolers were selling burgers, Poiliieve was selling memberships for Jason Kenney and the Reform Party.
He attended the University of Calgary, where he fell under the spell of Austrian philosopher Friedrich Hayek.
Hayek’s theory that the welfare state leads to totalitarianism has functioned as a high-minded justification for decades of social cutbacks and privatization across the world.
At 19, Poilievre was a finalist in the “As prime minister I would” essay contest, writing that he would abolish a tax that primarily applies to the investments of the very rich.
In op-eds, he applauded Alberta premier Ralph Klein and treasurer Stockwell Day after they laid off thousands of teachers and nurses. Day soon gave him a job, and Poilievre went to Ottawa.
Elected at 24 years old, he emerged within Stephen Harper’s government as the leading enemy of workers’ basic rights.
He helped push legislation to make it more difficult for workers to unionize, to collectively negotiate, and to go on strike—the best tool they have against elites and employers.
When migrant workers brought in by the government to work on Canada’s farms and in seniors homes faced deportation, Poilievre’s response exhibited his special brand of concern for the common toiler: “That’s why they’re called temporary foreign workers.”
Poilievre has such a distaste for Canada’s universal social programs that he has suggested adopting economist Milton Friedman’s proposal to replace “the entire welfare state” with “a tiny survival stipend for all low-income people.” This would involve “eliminating all other programs, including housing, drug plans, child care and the bureaucrats who administer it all.”
Massive tax cuts for the rich, suppressing workers rights, and gutting social programs that ordinary Canadians depend on — it’s not exactly the platform of a people’s champion.
Poilievre is hardly the first Canadian politician to use this strategy. He’s learned from former conservative premiers Ralph Klein and Mike Harris, and Reform leader Preston Manning.
All of them played outsiders preaching populism, then revealed themselves to be insiders delivering poverty.
This is always how fake populism works—use working people to get into power, then kick them to the curb.
So forget the image of a down-home uprising storming parliament.
If Pierre Poilievre can con his way into the prime minister’s office, the elite are going to have a field day.