A telling tale of two political polar extremes in Canada

In the space of a few days in the last week, I was able to experience the polar extremes of Canada’s politics.

Not so much A to Z as AA to PP.

In the personae of BC NDP leadership candidate Anjali Appadurai and Conservative Party leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre – AA and PP – and certainly in their belief systems and representations, there exists the expanse of the country’s political spectrum and its common disquiet.

What a journey to the outer limits in encountering them. Both are convinced in their bones and authentic in their presentations. Neither seems scripted or managed into rehearsed talking points. Each is swimming against a stream. One doesn’t have to agree with them to appreciate the energy.

The best-known is the phenomenon of Poilievre, the career-long MP who has emerged in 2022 as the country’s most intriguing political figure. Next week he will learn if, as almost all expect, he is taking the national party’s leadership. Few have been converted so quickly from proverbial attack dog to potential top dog, few have been so news-making in campaigning. He is quite clearly on the right, well out there in fact.

The other phenomenon is Appadurai, a career-long activist who latterly entered the race for the leadership – and, by automatic extension, the premiership – but stands to make the race, if not the result, uncomfortable for Attorney General David Eby, her sole rival considerably favoured to win. With thoughtful, tactful technique, she will remind the party that it has lost its way. She is quite clearly on the left, well out there in fact.

It’s seemingly difficult to find common political ground in the two. I suppose they are both carbon-based forms of life who live in Canada.

Still, their political missions have many similarities. PP’s is more likely to imminently succeed September 10, and AA’s is at the incubation stage vested in an ideologically different movement with many of the same, simple messages of the political importance of first principles.

Both are running against established systems, both are speaking for significant cohorts who have been consciously or unconsciously excluded from power, so both are attracting at different ends of the spectrum the same wellspring of the left-outs.

There has been much more time to evaluate Poilievre. There is no small irony that a 17-year MP – a cabinet minister in one of the most buttoned-down governments in memory under Stephen Harper – has positioned himself as a major change agent who would rupture many precepts of national government.

In a session last week with my colleagues from Glacier Media, once he could shake off obvious fatigue from the road, the Ottawa-area MP spoke as an anti-Ottawa force: A tax code in need of shaking, impediments to immigration and doctors in need of smiting, housing delays in need of slashing, pipeline opposition in need of suppressing.

No one would elect Poilievre on the basis of his EQ. And in part because he is curt, there are suspicions about what’s behind the curtain. He offers voice and access to a slew of people up to no good, to say the least, even if his supportive mainstay is the party faithful. His campaign videos are a masterclass in sticking it to the government’s many weaknesses. He is like a nerdy, libertarian, street-pacing Rick Mercer of vintage This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and I’ve had plenty of friends even on the left express admiration for his killing it in one take.

Unlike other recent Conservative leaders who ran right and moved into the mushy middle, he’s more likely to stay in his lane – a lane open to free-wheeling and convoys.  No question, his membership drive to secure the leadership has recruited tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of disaffected outliers into a seat of some influence – for now, at least.

Appadurai, on the other hand, has no long public life resumé to assess. She’s earned her keep in the realms of environmentalism and social justice. Seemingly out of the blue, she nearly won the Vancouver-Granville riding in the last federal election and has carried that momentum and her crew into this phase. Still, she shares with PP the stir of steering a movement.

If Poilievre is advocating personal freedom in various applications of the relationship of the state and the individual, Appadurai is advocating quite the opposite: A state that uses the lens of the climate emergency and inequity in all it does. With that comes wealth redistribution, windfall taxes and an end to any government support of what would be incessant curtailing of fossil fuel extraction.

She, too, is challenging established systems – interestingly, in her own party’s sitting government. Essentially, she is calling the NDP’s baby ugly. She bought into the promises in 2017, only to witness yet another blandizing of bold ambition. Eby has so far misplayed her presence and given her supporters – many of them young (after all, the party allows 12-year-olds to buy memberships) – no reason to think things would change under him.

PP wants government out of the way of what he considers bad things. AA wants government very much in the way of what she considers bad things.

The larger questions are whether their campaigns have legs beyond the party votes. Both have reminded Conservatives who they are and New Democrats who they are. One doesn’t need to subscribe to their prescriptions to see the validity in their diagnoses. •

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