In Pierre Poilievre, Justin Trudeau has at last found a true rival

If you could spare about 45 minutes Saturday late afternoon to come indoors to the television set, you got to see the end of the moderate, centrist Conservative Party of Canada. 

The most intriguing Canadian politician to emerge since the person he wishes to unseat presented us unambiguously with a clear choice next election. 

Pierre Poilievre’s dominant victory of the party’s leadership – membership support more than four times the size of his nearest rival, the red Tory Jean Charest – is as much a signal to him now as it will be to the country soon that his consistent conservative message is in full flight and has no seeming need of softening or sanding the edges. 

Justin Trudeau has benefited from a tired Stephen Harper, an uninspired Andrew Scheer and an all-over-the-map Erin O’Toole as election foes. 

In Poilievre, he has at last found a true rival, the libertarian against the liberal, an adopted child against an advantaged child with all the I’ll-show-you spite that comes with that, a visceral politician who wants government out of the way against an affecting politician who wants government leading the way. 

Before any discussion of his acceptance speech, let’s concede a few words of admiration for whoever decided he should be accompanied to the convention stage and cede the microphone to his wife, Anaida, for an adrenalized speech and eventual introduction. Conservatives would be talking today of how it was pure gold and how it suggests the next campaign could not just  be mano-a-mano but duo-a-duo.

Poilievre’s acceptance speech smartly steered clear of some of his campaign questionables – the fanboy stuff about cryptocurrency, the fruitless threat to fire the Bank of Canada governor, the World Economic Forum conspiracy theory, the mantra about making us the freest country in the world, for instance. Social program policy talk was set aside, too, for a sheer economic rant, delivered so quickly out of genuine beliefs that I doubt the TelePrompter kept up.

Most of us plan our next 20 or 25 words; Poilievre, because he has ingrained beliefs, programs his next 400 to 500. If it didn’t have changes in cadence and pitch, it would seem robotic. It certainly feels automated from an angry place, a leader who can’t wait to plant sticks of dynamite here and there to break the icejam so the river can rage.

What was clear from the leadership race’s outset was that Poilievre was the only candidate materially attracting crowds and new members. If he can further expand on that even slightly, he will easily win against a prime minister who has accumulated animus and a government that has run out of ideas at exactly the economic time it needs many more of them.

Any fears that Skippy, as he is called, had gaps in regional support were washed away Saturday. He won every B.C. riding, it should be noted, as part of his 68-per-cent clubbing of the competition nationally.

That was what I took away most Saturday: like him or not, here is an unpretentious leader authentic in his skin, comfortable in staking positions that give us a real choice at the polls. He is very, very unlikely to try to shapeshift the way Scheer and O’Toole did. What you see today is close to what you will get when he retires. Nor is the party bound to follow through on a mild threat from within during the leadership campaign to splinter if Poilievre won. 

What the new leader does in the next three months is less interesting than what Trudeau does. The prime minister loves a fight and Liberals feel Poilievre can be defined as Trump North, at least for now, so there remains serious talk about an imminent election before year’s end.

Liberals like to say that Trudeau has been underestimated many times, so they are bound to pay attention when Conservative say the same thing about their new leader. 

The longer Poilievre can get under Trudeau’s skin in the House of Commons – and if you notice, he can do that with most everyone – the clearer Canadians will be about who he is instead of who is portrayed as, the clearer he will define and not be defined, so there is some sense in trying to douse the campfire before it threatens to spread to the forest. 

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and editor-in-chief of Business in Vancouver and vice-president, editorial, of Glacier Media.