QUEBEC — Conservatives gathered for the federal party’s national policy convention in Quebec City today will hear not only from their leader later, but from a man who at one time wanted that job himself.
The must-see event of the day for the more than 2,000 Conservatives who travelled to Quebec City will be tonight’s speech by leader Pierre Poilievre.
The convention comes almost one year exactly since he scored a resounding first-ballot victory in the leadership race and it is the first time he will address a policy convention as the party’s head.
Poilievre will take the stage as recent polls show the Conservatives with a considerable lead over the governing Liberals, lifting the spirits of party members clamouring for a return to power after being shut out for nearly eight years.
Before Poilievre, the delegates will hear from former cabinet minister Peter MacKay.
MacKay skipped the virtual policy convention in 2021 following his defeat in the 2020 leadership race and his appearance here is viewed by some as a kind of homecoming.
The party for this convention is billing him as one of its co-founders, referencing his role in the merger of the former Progressive Conservative party, which he led, with the Canadian Alliance.
One of the goals of the convention is to get party members fired up for the next election, which doesn’t have to happen for another two years but could come earlier because of the minority Parliament.
On Thursday, the Conservatives unveiled a new logo as well as a selection of merchandise with Poilievre’s often-used catchphrase of “Bring it Home.”
Delegates are also set to discuss today what changes they want to make to the Conservatives’ policy handbook and constitution. Suggestions range from declarations around crime and public safety to prohibiting surgical and pharmaceutical gender-affirming care for minors and protecting the rights of those who refuse vaccination.
Some ridings in British Columbia and in Toronto are also pushing the party to set more environmental priorities in official party policy.
Poilievre has made efforts over the summer to broaden his appeal by softening his image, ditching the glasses and suit jacket. He has also stuck to the decision he made at rallies during his leadership campaign to stand and pose for a photo with whoever wants one, which he also plans to do at this weekend’s convention.
The last time he spoke to such a sizable room of his base was after winning the party’s leadership last fall where his wife, Anaida, introduced him and stole the show for some Conservatives with her story of having arrived as a Venezuelan immigrant with her family and later pursuing a career as a political staffer.
Throughout his summer tour, Poilievre has been talking up the party as the option for Canadians who are desiring hope and looking for relief from unaffordable housing prices and a high cost of living. Those are issues that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberals have so far struggled to convince the country they can fix.
Poilievre’s speech presents an opportunity to refine that message even further and show Canadians he is a prime minister-in-waiting.
And while his MPs and supporters are buoyed by the recent polls, Poilievre also has the task of managing expectations that rougher waters may still be ahead, as well as keep the focus on what he considers to be winnable issues, such as housing and the cost of living.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2023.
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press