CALGARY— Newly-elected British Prime Minister Keir Starmer was offered advice last week by one of his predecessors, Tony Blair, who noted the difference between being the Great Persuader and the Great Chief Executive.

In a column in the London Sunday Times, Blair said the former is about speeches, slogans and the performative arts of a campaign, while the latter is all about policy and delivery. “Guess which is harder?” he asked rhetorically.

Even though we may be a year or more out from the next Canadian election, Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre seems increasingly to be turning his mind to what he might do as the country’s next chief executive.

As one veteran of past Conservative governments put it, last year Poilievre was on course to win 200 seats; this year, it appears as if he might win 200 seats; and, in all likelihood, next year he will be on the cusp of winning 200 seats. “This is like the Western Front — we will fight the war and the front won’t move,” he said.

Politics is unpredictable. The election of Donald Trump as president in the U.S. could prompt a backlash in Canada against right-wing politicians here, but it is hard to fathom how re-electing Justin Trudeau, a leader Trump openly despises, would improve things.

Until last weekend, Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) was on course to win a majority of seats in the French National Assembly. Yet, a coalition of leftist parties was cobbled together that saw 200 candidates opposed to RN drop out to give rival candidates a better chance of defeating the far-right party.

Could something similar happen in Canada in the form of a Liberal-NDP voting pact? It’s possible. But Canadian voters appear to be motivated by the desire for a change in leadership: 84 per cent think it is time for a change of government, according to one recent Abacus Data poll, even if 29 per cent are not enamored with the alternatives. It would be a tough sell for any of the current Liberal cabinet or the NDP leader to claim they represent change.

The race does not always go to the party 20 points ahead in the polls but that’s the way to bet.

Poilievre is no Trump or Le Pen and it seems like he is subtly fine-tuning his campaign message to reassure the doubters that he wants to recreate Stephen Harper’s (or even John Diefenbaker’s) Canada, not Trump’s America.

His bewildering battle cry of “bring it home” is meant to convey that many Canadians feel far from home and no longer recognize the country after nine years of the Trudeau Liberals. “Bringing it home” would see voters click their heels three times and wake up in a Canada where Justin Trudeau’s time in office was just a bad dream.

On a balmy prairie evening at Calgary’s Heritage Park last Saturday, Poilievre hosted a packed Stampede barbecue, where the Conservative faithful gathered to celebrate their good fortune at the confluence of high inflation with broad public fatigue with Trudeau’s idiosyncrasies. Poilievre has been the lucky beneficiary.

The widespread impression that the Trudeau Liberals are toothy fakes who have failed to deliver on their promises is increasingly confirmed by former ministers who have seen the inner circle in action. Former foreign affairs minister Marc Garneau is the latest to suggest in his forthcoming autobiography that Trudeau is an ill-prepared leader who prioritizes politics over policy and doesn’t follow through on his big announcements.

In A Most Extraordinary Ride: Space, Politics and the Pursuit of the Canadian Dream, to be published this fall, Garneau said Canada is losing credibility overseas because the Trudeau government is too reactionary and ill-prepared. “It is not sufficient to pay attention only when a concern arises,” he writes.

In his Stampede speech, Poilievre had fun with Trudeau’s absence from the greatest outdoor show on earth, advising his loyalists that the prime minister is “in panic mode.” “Don’t be offended that Justin Trudeau is hiding from you. He’s actually hiding from his own caucus too … Everyone is realizing that while the emperor has many costumes, he has no clothes,” he said.

For good measure, he took aim at many of the possible alternative Liberal leaders — “the squeaky little guy who is responsible for industry” (François-Philippe Champagne), “the housing minister who caused both an immigration crisis and a housing crisis in under two years” (Sean Fraser), “the finance minister whose idea of deficit reduction is cancelling Disney Plus” (Chrystia Freeland) and, last but not least, “Carbon Tax” (Mark) Carney.

“Every other possible leader is just like Justin,” he said.

There were plenty of the usual platitudes for the base: a Poilievre government will “axe the (carbon) tax”; repeal the “anti-resource law” C-69; defund the CBC; institute “jail, not bail” for violent repeat offenders; and, “end the war on our hunters.”

So far, so blah. But there was more here than just throwing red meat to a carnivorous crowd, eager to head for the pulled-beef sandwiches.

In her public pronouncement, the new Labour finance minister in Britain, Rachel Reeves, has pledged to make economic growth her government’s top priority, acknowledging that growth is the only way to keep living standards rising. It is a message Labour’s progressive cousins in Canada have never truly embraced, preferring to focus on redistribution. The result has been a decline in GDP per capita that currently remains below 2019 levels. The economy is growing more slowly than the population, in large measure thanks to Liberal immigration policies, with the result that Canadian living standards will fall behind countries that were historically less rich than us.

Poilievre indicated in his speech that he understands the only way out of this cycle of relative decline is faster growth.

He said the Canadian economy is 40-per-cent less productive than the U.S. because the average U.S. worker attracts $28,000 in capital investment, compared to $15,000 per Canadian worker.

“Now Trudeau wants to attack the very entrepreneurs and investors that create jobs” with the new capital gains tax hike. “This is insane … I call it economic sadomasochism,” he said.

Yet rather than proposing to repeal the tax increase, he said his government would create a tax-reform commission to design tax cuts that reward investment; to simplify the tax code; and lower the share of taxes paid by the working class.

Another plank of his economic platform is an overhaul of the planning and permitting regimes to get more houses built. It would require municipalities to free up land, cut development taxes and speed up permitting, or lose federal funding.

He said that as prime minister, he would champion Canadian energy and “unleash the unmatched might of the free enterprise system,” ensuring faster permitting for projects, lower taxes and more competition to drive the economy forward.

He promised that he will remove the carbon tax from the production of steel in future pipelines, which is a possible hint about a future government’s industrial carbon tax policy.

Would any of this make any difference? There is a sense in Britain that a whopping Labour majority will create political stability that could offer a welcome boost to growth and capital investment.

Given the potential for political dysfunction in the U.S., a Conservative majority in Canada could provide some certainty for skittish investors, particularly if the country can avoid higher trade barriers.

The Conservatives could have the edge on the Liberals when it comes to housing construction because they are not tied to the same immigration targets that are likely to add 1.9-million new households by 2030. RBC calculates that more than half will not be able to buy a house at current construction rates. An incoming government is also likely to benefit from lower interest rates: RBC calculates the overnight rate will fall to three per cent by 2025, from 4.75 per cent now, at a time when owning a home has never been more unaffordable.

The suspicion is that some improvement in economic growth from the average of 1.7 per cent between 2023 and 2028, projected in the last budget, is plausible.

In front of his hometown crowd, Poilievre didn’t have to get out of second gear to be the Great Persuader, regaling them with tales of underage drinking in nearby Fish Creek Park.

He was ably abetted by his wife, Anaida, an authentic, relatable presence, who validates her spouse with women voters.

But this was a more sophisticated Poilievre than the cartoonish figure who won the Conservative leadership. It sounds like he is thinking beyond wooing voters and starting to reckon with the immense challenge of exercising power as the nation’s chief executive.

National Post

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