Mississauga Lakeshore Recap: Turns Out Poilievre Ain't Inevitable?
On The Byelection Of Everything And Nothing
In reality, last night’s byelection – where the Liberals won by 14% in a seat they won by 6% last time – means actually nothing. It should in no way solidify or shake your priors, because a byelection that might get to 27% turnout if it’s lucky is not a useful barometer of the sum of jack and shit.
But holy hell is it really funny watching pundits who spent much of the summer proclaiming Poilievre’s inevitability suddenly claim this matters. It doesn’t, but if it makes the commentariat get their heads out of their asses it was probably a good thing.
There are two things that are both fundamentally true about Canadian politics right now – there’s a lot of activity, and almost no news.
Take your pick of sports metaphor here – it’s the laps after the beginning of an F1 race before the pit stops, the 4th round of a boxing match destined to go 10+, or the second quarter of a football game – but we are at the stage where you can’t win, but you can lose. You can’t win an F1 race on the 9th lap, but you sure as shit can lose it, and that’s where we are right now. There’s a lot of stuff happening – Lakeshore, Jagmeet saber-rattling about pulling the Government down, Pierre’s entire existence, Carey Price and the gun stuff – but not a lot of it fundamentally matters on a political level. The Liberals will not win the next election by being seen to do well right now, but in theory doing a disastrous job could be the sort of anchor on the government moving forward.
For Poilievre, his hyperactive nature leads to a lot of coverage, because he is the candidate of social media and cable news. He gets coverage because on a slow news day, “Opposition Leader says something” serves a purpose in the neverending war against not filling their news quotas. But the problem is, none of this actually matters for the next election.
The problem is, to say that – especially to do so every day and every night you’re asked to – is to make bad TV or bad radio, and if you’re a guest, probably not be invited back on again. “This is meaningless bubble drivel” is most often the right answer to the political stories that fill up the news of the day, but that doesn’t make it any less true that there is little political impact of these stories.
There’s a ton of governance reasons that the Liberals need to be on their game, but the idea that the government will lose the next election because they feel a bit unfocused 3 years from the next election is absurdist nonsense. That said, the idea they will be gifted it because of Pierre Poilievre’s gaffes is also absurd. As someone who used to skip school to watch Question Period in person, the idea that I used to believe any of what is said in those sessions baffles me.
What does any of this have to do with Mississauga? Nothing, and everything. This is the broad result that a basic understanding of politics, the Global Fucking Realignment, and Poilievre’s appeal would point to – the Liberals have done better, but they’re running a recognizable brand against a no-name candidate. None of this is a surprise if you’ve correctly considered that Poilievre – who has never proven fucking anything – is in at best a tossup situation and in reality is a steep, steep underdog to deliver government in 2025 for the Tories. But, of course, so many haven’t.
This seat is not exactly a must win for the Tories, but the idea that you’re going to go backwards in Mississauga Lakeshore and win the two suburban Kitcheners or my home riding of Kanata is for the fucking birds. There is no strategy that sees the Tories win St. Catharines while going backwards in Mississauga, and even with fairly bold theories about how the Tories will surge in Northern Ontario, Atlantic Canada, and Vancouver Island (where they will do better), the Tories still need some gains in what passes for suburban Ontario.
Put aside tonight, and try and answer this very specific question – why is Pierre Poilievre’s brand of Toryism a better fit for suburbia than O’Toole’s? There’s no actual answer, because Poilievre-ism isn’t an ideology that will appeal to the suburbs. It’s just not – it’s an appeal to the disaffected and the angry, not just about specific policy areas but about the general sense of a country that has lost control. To be exceedingly clear, the multi-ethnic, socially liberal majorities in these suburban seats just don’t feel the same way.
The Tories have the same problem they had when I coined Scrimshaw’s Paradox: any leader who gets through the membership cannot win a general election. It was true in February, and it feels true now, because the Tory members continue to elect insane nutters. I’m really sorry if you read this site and like Poilievre, but they are the least representative party members anywhere in the world since Jeremy Corbyn’s fanclub (or cult) saddled UK Labour with an Islington elite trying to win a country where 2/3rds of the seats were Leave-voting.
A lot of ink has been spilled about Poilievre, either in hope or in fear that that prophecy would not come true. A lot of right wingers want Poilievre to win either because they’re committed to his politics, or moreso because they think any right wing government is better than any Liberal one and that they think a Tory government will allow them to do a lot of “traditional” Tory things – namely, spending cuts and whatever else – while putting up with the Poilievre-specific part of the coalition.
The problem with this is that the Tories are trying to stitch together two ends of the coalition. The Tories’ winning coalition is a weird coalition of CPC-LPC switchers who would vote for a Tory Party led by James Moore and CPC-NDP switchers who want the NDP to finally get back to their working class roots and dislike the fact that the NDP are seen to be more concerned with niche issues than their economic conditions. The problem is, the Tories need two very different leaders to get each of those voters. Poilievre is the right leader for a Timmins and Thunder Bay strategy, but he is very much wrong for a Kitchener-Kanata one. And fundamentally, there are more places that look like Kitchener and Kanata than there are Timmins and Thunder Bay.
At the end of the day, my fundamental belief about Poilievre is unchanged from before Mississauga Lakeshore. He’s a bad candidate for the suburbs and to win he needs to fix that, or run the table everywhere else. I highly, highly doubt he’ll run the table of NDP and LPC working class seats, and there’s still no evidence he can fix his dogshit suburban appeal.
At the end of the day, this is what matters. Hopefully the pundit class won’t get distracted by bullshit anymore.