As Parliament resumes, Poilievre remains focused on inflation
It is no secret what Pierre Poilievre thinks about government spending and inflation.
Same with guns.
But what does the Conservative leader think should happen when premiers ask for billions more in federal health care dollars?
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With a deal being negotiated between Ottawa and the provinces, and premiers invited to a meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in early February, the issue remains one where the Tory leader’s position appears somewhat murky, including to some within his own party.
That’s where Poilievre finds himself as he enters his second term in the House of Commons as opposition leader, knowing he must grow the Conservative tent if he hopes to win the next election, whenever it rolls around.
Strategists say a clear opportunity exists for the Conservative leader in the form of concerns about a possible recession this year, fueling Canadians’ existing economic anxieties.
Talk of what the year could hold for the economy was on the minds of Conservatives as they met on Saturday to discuss priorities for the months ahead, given the return of the House of Commons next week. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with his Liberal caucus the same day.
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Poilievre often talks about the financial predicament Canadians find themselves in, whether it’s struggling to afford a home and make mortgage payments or dealing with expensive grocery bills and relying on food banks.
But if his eye is on convincing those who might be skeptical of a Poilievre-led government, he would be wise to broaden his script rather than stick to a stark affordability message, said Shakir Chambers, a former adviser of provincial and federal Conservative governments, said. .
“We understand the economy matters … but as a leader of the country you have to be able to talk about a lot more things.”
Inflation-focused @PierrePoilievre back to Parliament as healthcare talks loom. #CDNPoli #Inflation #Affordability #Healthcare
In a press conference with reporters this week — an event that has become more frequent on Parliament Hill — Poilievre fielded questions about the issue of increased health care spending and the role of privatization.
Besides pointing out that private delivery of services already exists in the country, he said his priorities for health care include reducing wait times and getting provinces to more quickly approve the foreign credentials of immigrants to deal with staffing shortages.
Nova Scotia MP Stephen Ellis, who is a doctor, said Saturday that the country is in economic trouble and there are large regional differences between provinces when it comes to health care needs.
“So continuing to look at this as something (to keep throwing money at) is something that we have to understand that we have to be fiscally conservative as Canadians,” he said. “I think a lot of us are like that at heart.”
“All we have is more big government, this top-down approach, this federalist approach of saying, ‘You have to do this, or you have to do that,'” he added. “It’s not going to work .
For Melanie Paradis, a veteran of Conservative campaigns, including that of former Tory leader and Ontario MP Erin O’Toole, health care and affordability are top priorities for Canadians.
“There has to be a conservative solution to big things, like health care,” she said.
Another issue that will come to the fore in the coming months is the Liberals’ long-awaited legislation on creating jobs in low-carbon industries in an effort to achieve net-zero emissions, which its “net transition”- called plan.
While Poilievre has promised to cancel the federal consumer carbon price and instead reduce emissions through technologies, Conservatives have yet to spell out what that would look like. On Saturday, Quebec MP Gerard Deltell, the party’s environment critic, said a plan would be ready for an election.
One challenge that strategists agree exists for Poilievre is pace. While he doesn’t want to roll out policy promises too early while an election may be in the distance, he also needs to start filling in the blanks so Canadians know what to expect from him.
Paradis says Poilievre appears to have started that work. This week he released a video of him speaking compassionately about those with autism and other forms of neurodiversity and announced plans to share more resource revenue with First Nations
The Conservative caucus heard from a panel of First Nations tax and business leaders on Saturday, following presentations from economists the previous day.
Chambers said the challenge for the leader will be to maintain the momentum he captured during last year’s leadership race, where he sold more than 300,000 memberships and often drew crowds in the hundreds and sometimes thousands.
Since becoming leader, Poilievre has made a habit of spending many weekends on the road. He visited both the Greater Toronto Area and Vancouver, both regions where Conservatives have struggled to grow support in recent elections. He also met with members of various immigrant and racialized communities during the campaign-like stops — another demographic Tories have struggled to connect with.
Laryssa Waler, a former director of communications for Ontario Premier Doug Ford, says Canada faces no shortage of challenges, from the economy to health care, and rejects the premise that it should be up to Poilievre to provide solutions.
“Pierre’s job is to be the leader of the opposition and that does not include shifting government policy on interprovincial monetary transfers,” she said. “Your job is to highlight the problem.”
One way Poilievre tries to do this is with the message “everything feels broken.” He reiterated that in a speech to caucus Friday in which he listed areas he feels Trudeau is failing to act on, ranging from crime to housing prices.
Chris Chapin, who has worked on previous leadership campaigns for Ontario Progressive Conservative candidates, says Poilievre’s message is evocative, adding that he can see why it is being used to lay the groundwork for whenever the next election is called.
He says that while convincing people that the country is broken is one thing, making them believe that Poilievre is the one to fix it is another.
Ontario MP Marilyn Gladu said Saturday she sees excitement for Poilievre within caucus and beyond, adding she believes his message resonates with Canadians.
Come next week, she said conservatives see the most important issue is the cost of living.
“I think the health care system is another legitimate issue,” she added.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 28, 2023.