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Uzelman: Fundamental issues Canadians want Poilievre and the Conservatives to address

A column by Bruce Uzelman
Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre rises during question period, Monday, April 24, 2023 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

~BW Uzelman

Abacus Data has just released a poll showing that Canadians view Pierre Poilievre’s promises with skepticism. Let’s check on a couple of his preferred topics. 41% believe he will defund CBC, while 27% believe he will not. 30% believe he will make housing more affordable, while 45% believe he will not. Affordable housing has a much broader appeal than does defunding the CBC. 91% believe the Conservatives should improve housing affordability, while only 38% believe they should defund the CBC.

Poilievre is apparently appealing to a broad swath of voters with his housing policy, while appeasing his base with the fringe policy aimed at the CBC. He risks alienating the moderate voters with the rightist rhetoric. Though Poilievre currently has a firmer hold on his party than any leader since Steven Harper, his appeal to the typical Canadian voter is more tenuous. The Conservatives have led opinion polls, but not by much. The Conservatives were up 2%-5% over the Liberals in recent polls. That means, if an election is held today, it is still possible for the Liberals win the seat count.

The Liberal government, with its recent mismanagement on a range of issues, is assisting the Tories. First, the Liberals response to China’s interference in our elections and China’s targeting of Canadians, including an MP, has been dreadful. Second, the Liberals have inflated immigration levels, escalating the housing shortage and affordability crisis. Third, real per capita income growth has been stagnant throughout their tenure. Fourth, government spending is out of control. Fifth, they have failed their voters by botching a bill to ban “assault-style” rifles, and then by significantly weakening it.

But Poilievre cannot count on that to continue. The Conservatives must craft an agenda that appeals to moderates, whether disillusioned or not with the Liberals. The Tory leader should pay attention to the issues moderate voters care about, and capitalize on the Liberals’ failures to deliver on them. Canadians identified their priorities in the Abacus poll. The top four issues that they believe the Conservative Party should address are: to make housing more affordable (91%), to deal with climate change seriously (81%), to balance the federal budget within four years (79%) and to cut income taxes (70%).

Housing affordability is already something Poilievre addresses regularly, and it has gained him substantial and positive attention. In contrast, while four in five Canadians want the party to genuinely engage on climate change, Poilievre has not provided detailed measures to achieve emissions reduction targets. He should champion expanding LNG production and export to displace coal usage, and identify the level of global emissions that this will eliminate. As well, a detailed plan to cut domestic emissions is essential. The absence of party policy here is conspicuous and troubling. The Conservatives need to demonstrate that they will act seriously on the issue. Canadians expect serious responses to a serious problem.

The Conservative leader, correctly and repeatedly, has noted that unrestrained Liberal spending has fueled inflation (though he has not recognized the other causes). Before the 2023 Budget, he called for the elimination of federal deficits, and for new spending to be balanced by expenditure cuts. He has yet to provide a timeline to balance the budget. He has argued for cutting payroll and income taxes, and for reducing the marginal effective tax rate to allow low income workers to keep more of their earnings. These economic issues likely have attracted and will continue to attract public support to the party.

As David Coletto of Abacas points out, the Conservatives should pay more attention to the issues important to “accessible Conservatives”, those who have not voted Conservative, but will consider doing so. He says, “Accessible Conservatives overwhelmingly want the Conservatives to balance the budget, cut taxes and make housing more affordable. These are clear opportunities for the Conservatives ….” Coletto should have added reduce climate change to his list. Only about half of accessible Conservatives believe the party will deliver on each of the four issues. The party has work to do.

Coletto concludes, “Instead of focusing on defunding the CBC, a focus on these areas is likely to do a better job at growing those open to voting Conservative.”

Poilievre’s rhetoric on “defunding the CBC” and the “radical woke agenda” is not helpful. Such issues do not command nearly as much public support as the other issues identified, even among Conservative voters. Further, they are peripheral and divisive. Poilievre ought to stop picking fights with the media and the radical woke, and focus on fundamental policy issues. Canadians are not looking for a squabbler. They want a capable, diligent Prime Minister.


Bruce W Uzelman

I grew up in Paradise Hill, a village in Northwestern Saskatchewan. I come from a large family. My parents instilled good values, but yet afforded us, my seven siblings and I, much freedom to do the things we wished to do. I spent my early years exploring the hills and forests and fields surrounding the village, a great way to come of age.

I attended the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. I considered studying journalism at one point, but did not ultimately pursue that. However, I obtained a Bachelor of Arts, Advanced with majors in Economics and Political Science in 1982.


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