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Uzelman: Poilievre needs to move away from grievance and focus on policy

New column from Bruce Uzelman
Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre addresses the Conservative caucus for the first time as leader during a meeting in Ottawa on Monday, Sept. 12, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

~BW Uzelman

Populist politicians assert that they represent the people in a struggle against an undesirable “elite”. Pierre Poilievre won the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada (CPC) with broad and deep support across the country. He successfully employed populism to build his appeal within the CPC.

Populism need not be negative. It can be constructive. The CPC need only look to it’s forerunner, the Reform Party. The populist party channelled Western Canadian discontent with the federal government to produce substantive proposals for democratic reform – including the establishment of a Triple E Senate (equal, elected and effective), and the freedom of MPs to vote, in some circumstances, according to their own values and opinions (rather than the party line).

Poilievre’s challenge, likewise, is to move from grievance – against “elites”, “gatekeepers” and the “radical woke coalition” – to produce detailed policy. He has pledged to repeal Bills C69 and C48. The bills, it appears, have made it more difficult to build energy and resource infrastructure in Canada, and hindered the export of Canadian oil and gas. Poilievre also has vowed to simplify the tax code, to appoint a Tax Reform Task Force and to lower the unfair marginal effective tax rate. That’s constructive.

A few suggestions for additional good Conservative policy follow.

1. Productivity Growth. Labour productivity is defined as real economic output per hour worked. Productivity growth is crucial. The economy must be able to progressively produce more with the same level of labour, so that there can be sustainable growth in workers’ incomes.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) predicts that from 2020 to 2030, Canada’s labour productivity will be amongst the lowest of all OECD nations. As a result of that and low labour utilization, Canada will have the lowest increase in real per capita GDP of all OECD countries. From 2030 to 2060, the OECD projects Canada to have the lowest performance in both measures.

Yet, David Williams, who is Vice President of Policy at the Business Council of BC, notes, “Much of the national political class seems to have lost interest in efforts to raise workers’ productivity and real wage growth ….” Productivity growth is driven primarily by increasing business investment, which requires a broad improvement in the regulatory and taxation environment for companies (and workers). So, Poilievre has put in place some of the pieces for a more successful growth strategy. More is required.

2. Climate Change. Poilievre’s only climate proposal to date is to axe the carbon tax. Many Canadians are concerned by climate change and its impacts. In BC alone, over the last 15 months, an atmospheric river caused destructive and extremely costly floods, and the heat dome of June 2021 caused record-shattering heat and many deaths. Next came the hottest month on record, August 2022.

The CPC ignore climate at their peril. A February Politico poll reported that 58 per cent of CPC supporters, 87 per cent of Liberal supporters and 90 per cent of NDP supporters were very or somewhat concerned about climate change. The CPC will require some of these votes, and must develop credible climate policy.

3. Democratic Reform. Michael Chong, a CPC MP, has already managed to pass a private member’s bill, the Reform Act of 2014. The Act allows each party caucus to choose caucus chair, determine caucus membership and to trigger a leadership review. The caucus is only required to vote to assume these powers after each general election. Amazingly, the uptake has been spotty. Our MPs must grow a spine. Removing these powers from the leader provides a modicum of independence to the MP.

In July, Chong proposed that the right of recognition (to address the House) be restored to the Speaker. Party leaders effectively usurped that right long ago. He also proposed committee members be elected by secret ballot of their party caucus, and that committees elect committee chairs through secret ballot. Again, removing these powers from the leaders will provide committee members some independence.

Poilievre should agree to support Chong’s proposals. He and the CPC should pledge to empower MPs, not control them through the leader’s office or the Prime Ministers Office, as did Steven Harper, and as does Justin Trudeau.


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. My parents owned a successful general store. My siblings and I were required to help out in the business, no choices allowed there!

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.

My career has consisted exclusively of small business, primarily restaurant and retail. I was originally based in Alberta, and then BC, first in Summerland, then Victoria and finally Kelowna (for over 20 years). I was married in Alberta, and we have two daughters, who have returned to Alberta as adults for career reasons, as did my now ex-wife. My daughters are successful, and now have families of their own.

I have maintained a healthy interest in politics throughout my adult years, and wish to put that and my research skills to work as a political columnist.


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