OTTAWA — Although three weeks remain in the Conservative party’s leadership race, the talk in political circles has already shifted to what’s next.
Pierre Poilievre’s victory is being treated as a foregone conclusion by his rivals and allies alike. He has upwards of $5 million in the bank, more than 300,000 party members signed up behind his cause, and the crowds turning up at get-out-the-vote events are assuaging earlier fears that all of the new members he’s recruited wouldn’t turn out to vote.
So, whether it’s planning House of Commons strategy or hashing out who might have which jobs, Tories and Liberals are already thinking about how Poilievre will reshape the country’s politics once the leadership race concludes on Sept. 10.
Between that day and the resumption of the House of Commons, he’d have nine days to pull together at least a skeleton crew to kick off the fall sitting of Parliament.
His team is nixing all public discussion of transition planning, fearful of jinxing his victory.
With 62 sitting MPs endorsing him, Poilievre would have no shortage of names to select from for his front bench team of critics, who would lead the charge on the dominant files come fall.
Meanwhile, those who chose to support leadership rival Jean Charest are already contemplating their political futures after a highly charged campaign that has seen Poilievre attack the former Quebec premier mercilessly.
As a result, Joël Godin, one of the MPs who supported Charest, is telling reporters he’s not sure he’ll stick around, and it’s expected there will be others who quietly decide not to run again.
Also eyeing their next steps are the staff. The ranks in the Official Opposition Leader’s office thinned considerably in recent months as many opted to jump ship early instead of potentially being marched out the door — several are now working in Ontario Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford’s government.
Conservative MPs grouse in a joking way that now it is their own offices that will be left bare as eager staffers make the jump to the opposition leader’s office.
Poilievre’s entire inner circle isn’t expected to move to Ottawa. Instead, like leaders before him, his campaign team would more likely pivot to start planning for the next general election, whenever that might be.
On paper, it could be at least 2025 — that’s the year the clock will run out on the agreement between the minority Liberals and New Democrats that has the latter propping up the government in exchange for implementation of some key NDP priorities.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has already signalled he’s willing to pull the plug sooner though, and at least one Conservative MP is publicly arguing that the next election could come as early as this fall.
Long-time Tory Michelle Rempel Garner penned an essay this week laying out her argument that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will either call an election this fall or step down as Liberal leader in two years’ time.
Liberals dispute the idea of a fall election, but there is no doubt tongues are wagging in their circles about how much longer Trudeau will stay on — by 2025, he’ll have been in power as long as his predecessor, Stephen Harper.
Where they agree with Rempel Garner is that a Poilievre-led Conservative party would be a much different Official Opposition than they’ve faced off against since coming to power in 2015.
In her essay, Rempel Garner called it the coming end of the “war of succession” that’s plagued the party since Harper stepped down in 2015.
The two leaders who followed him — Andrew Scheer and Erin O’Toole — only won their jobs after multiple rounds of ballot counting, and so never had a solid mandate, she argued.
“This meant that neither of them could really escape the gravity of Stephen Harper’s influence within the party or the aspirations and grudges of malcontents. The result of this was that the Conservative party never truly coagulated after Harper’s defeat,” she wrote.
“However, all signs are pointing to a decisive first or at most, second ballot Poilievre victory in September. Poilievre will have the clear mandate Scheer or O’Toole never really were viewed as having.”
Scheer and O’Toole also had to grapple with people waiting in the wings to take their jobs, and who ultimately ousted them as leader, she wrote — and those people are all now gone.
“Any behind-the-scenes agitators that facilitated the Scheer and O’Toole ousters might, having vanquished all other opponents, finally be satiated with the influence and policy direction that a Poilievre-led Conservative party will offer them,” she wrote.
“There is a good chance that swords will be put down and everyone will take a breather.”
Not the Liberals.
How they’d handle Poilievre will be on the agenda at the government’s cabinet retreat in early September — just before the Tories wrap up their race — and their caucus retreat right after.
One logistical concern is the fact that Parliament will still be hybrid, so MPs will be able to either attend in person or log-in from home.
Having a packed opposition bench facing off against a handful of Liberals will just add more fire to Poilievre’s narrative that the Liberals are out of touch, and debate is now underway in Liberal circles around how to neutralize that.
But that’s a small thing in the face of a bigger issue: how to best counter Poilievre’s argument that it is the Liberals’ fault that inflation is so high and the cost of living seems to grow by the month.
“In less than a month, the Conservative party will choose their new leader, and if you’ve heard some of the facts that their leadership candidates have been flipping, you’ll know that we need to work together to set the record straight this BBQ season,” Liberal party headquarters wrote in an email to members this week, with talking points to counter the Tory narrative including a lighthearted list of puns.
But with polls suggesting they are losing support, one Liberal told the Star this week that the party knows facing off against Poilievre is no joke.
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