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Published September 8, 2023

Poilievre rallies Conservatives hungry for a 'blue wave' with stump speech, base hits

By Stephanie Taylor in Québec

Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre tried painting himself as a prime minister in waiting in an election-style speech to party faithful Friday, filling it with messages he plans to take to Canadians, while throwing some red meat to his base. 

Poilievre's more than hour-long address to the more than 2,500 supporters gathered for the party's policy convention in Quebec City was the marquee event of the meet-up, which falls almost exactly to the day one year ago since he romped to a crushing first-ballot victory in the leadership race.

It was his first address to a party convention as leader and was a highly anticipated event to see how he would paint a Conservative vision for the country. 

"I want to thank my own parents," Poilievre said to a sea of supporters bathed in blue stage lights. "It's because they made the decision to adopt me and work hard in front of a classroom that I now stand proudly in front of this room." 

As he thanked his mother, his voice broke slightly with emotion. 

His win nearly one year ago was the most decisive victory for a Conservative leader since Stephen Harper in 2004 and continues to be the hope the party has to win back power after nearly eight years of Liberal rule. 

Since his big win, Poilievre has been working to hone the party's priorities, trying to whip it into election-fighting shape and, most recently, introduce a softened version of himself to new voters through numerous outreach events and a $3-million advertising campaign, hoping they warm up to the idea of him as prime minister. 

Friday's speech was a culmination of those efforts. Poilievre promised Conservatives would restore hope to a country he painted as weary from a high cost of living, amplifying his message-turned-rally cry of "Bring it Home," which supporters chanted before he even took the stage. 

Like many of the speeches he gave on his summer tour, Poilievre accused Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of breaking his "promise" of allowing people to achieve what he painted as the Canadian dream, namely home ownership. 

"We don’t know when that election will be, but when it comes, Canadians will have only two options," he told the crowd. 

"A common-sense Conservative government that frees hardworking people to earn powerful paycheques that buy affordable food, gas and homes in safe communities" or "Trudeau’s costly coalition," which is what he calls the supply-and-confidence agreement he entered into with the NDP.

Poilievre was introduced by his wife, Anaida, who spoke about her family relying on food banks when they first immigrated to Montreal from Venezuela, and getting donated gifts for their first Christmas. She also spoke of the sacrifices the pair are making as a family with two young children, one with special needs, in pursing the country's highest office.  

"The job ahead is great and it is not an easy one, but it is a very important one," she said. 

Throughout his speech, Poilievre listed what he would do if he were to win: Speed up credential recognition for skilled immigrants, incentivize cities to get more homes built and develop more of the country's natural resources. 

He also nodded to some of the more popular priorities of the party's base who filled the room, like scrapping the country's ArriveCan app, initially rolled out for travellers to enter their COVID-19 vaccination information. 

Talking about keeping Canada safe in an increasingly volatile world, he said it does not depend "on attending yet another gabfest at the UN or in, God forbid, Davos."

Anaida Poilievre, in her own introduction, also earned a rousing round of applause when she listed the workers who she said keep the country running,  including nurses, plumbers and "yes — the truckers." 

Poilievre's full-throated support for last year's "Freedom Convoy" in Ottawa continues to serve as an attack by his critics, including the governing Liberals, who also pinpoint his party's lack of detailed policy to tackle climate change.

Poilievre also filled his speech with partisan attacks against the Trudeau Liberals, and at one point characterized feeling angry on behalf of a man unable to afford his rent. Like the convoy, Poilievre's angry persona is often used as a slight by his opponents. 

"An economy where the people who build our homes can’t afford to live in them is fundamentally unjust and wrong," he said. 

The crowd erupted into more applause when Poilievre vowed his first act as prime minister would be to "axe the tax," referring to the federal Liberal government's carbon pricing plan. 

He also referenced his pledge to "defund the CBC". 

A wildly popular rallying call for his base, doing so is a touchier subject in Quebec where language and culture are ballot issues. 

Earlier in the day, delegates gathered behind closed doors soundly rejected advancing a submission to change the party policy to pull federal funding from both the French and English wings of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp., which receives roughly $1.2 billion from Parliament annually.  

Following his speech, Poilievre snapped photos with supporters who lined up to meet him. Those who did are clamouring for one thing: A "blue wave" that knocks the Liberals out of office. 

"If you remember nothing else that I've said here today, in order to build a united Canada we must remain united as a Conservative party," former Conservative cabinet minister Peter MacKay told supporters in a keynote address earlier Friday. 

MacKay's appearance was meant as a show of some of that unity. Billed by the party 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, he represents a more moderate wing of the party that Poilievre critics worried would flee after his election as leader last year. 

Another ingredient to the "blue wave" Conservatives hope to see is money, which has rolled in since Poilievre's election. 

"We will continue to spend on tour and we will continue to spend on advertising," Robert Staley, the Toronto lawyer named by Poilievre to lead the Conservative Fund, said in a presentation Friday. 

"All of this is being done to influence voters, especially in key ridings, to support the party and our leader in the next election."

The party convention concludes Saturday when delegates vote on policy resolutions. 

Banner image: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jacques Boissinot

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 8, 2023. 

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