This week in politics has (finally) freed us of bad Sam Cooper reporting, and allowed two other news stories to take center stage – the Liberals’ proposed dental care scheme, and Erin O’Toole’s announcement he’ll be resigning as an MP at the end of this Parliamentary session (aka, the mid-to-end of June, depending on how desperate MPs get to finish early). I’m on the record as no big fan of O’Toole – his campaign in 2021 suffered from the dual sins of being electorally ineffective (the Tories lost seats) and morally repugnant (he didn’t believe a word out of his mouth) – which is the worst place to be in in politics.
He isn’t the great moderate that many of his supporters in the commentariat paint him as, or at least, he doesn’t get the credit for his moderation after spending the year before the election telling us he wasn’t one. He ran a fundamentally dishonest campaign to try and become PM, and it failed. For some reason, the fact he became a fraud in search of power doesn’t hang over him, despite the fact that the dishonesty is in large part why he lost. He was a fraud to all, and so the suburbs gave him no credit for the (half-assed) attempt to do something about climate change and the PPC still got 13% in Timmins despite the vaccine politics, stopping the Tories from making a run at their other path forward.
His resignation is a reminder of the choice the Tories have to make, and the one they decided they made when Poilievre was elected – that next time they win government they will do so with an entirely different coalition than 2006, when they entered office under Harper. And this week, Pierre Poilievre has stepped on a landmine called dental care – and in so doing, has made the Tories’ implicit bet much harder.
The Liberal dental plan, as is currently proposed, is not actually analogous to Canadian health care in any way. It’s not replacing private insurance, but merely seeking to augment private insurance for those who don’t have it (or have parents who qualify). What this means is that this is a transfer of funds from the cities outwards, because let’s be honest here – you know who has dental coverage? Lawyers, bankers, and public servants. As someone who had dental coverage as a kid from the federal government’s coverage, I know well of what I speak.
The people who won’t have dental? Disproportionately going to be rural and regional Canadians, disproportionately those whose employment isn’t for a big corporation, and those who sell their own goods for a living, so fishermen and farmers. Oh, and the self-employed or the young working multiple jobs, don’t forget about them. What do those people have in common? They’re the groups the Conservatives keep telling us they’re targeting to win the next election.
The Liberals’ ascendent coalition – the group of voters they did better with in 2019 and 2021 than they did in 2015 – is a group of voters who almost uniformly already have dental coverage. Unlike most political decisions, this is a government designing an airquotes “handout” almost entirely for people who don’t support the government. Far from being a bribe to the coalition that won them power, this is an olive branch to those who view this government as out of touch and full of urban elitists. The public servants and the Bay Street bankers who flipped Lisa Raitt’s old seat of Milton already have dental.
The voters who don’t? There’s a lot more of them in Timmins between the NDP-CPC potential switchers and the PPC voters, or in Skeena or Comox or Kootenay or Windsor or Newfoundland, all places where the Tories are explicitly trying to win. The ascendent Tory coalition is culturally conservative and economically left wing, the same kind of voters who supported Brexit to lessen immigration while supporting the UK Tories’ message around the Northern Powerhouse and Levelling Up. These are voters who are inherently distrustful of elites, hold negative opinions of the big cities and the capital, and hold social and cultural views that would not go over well in those big cities.
These are voters Poilievre is pitching for – people who wouldn’t self-identify as homophobic or racist but who never the less would feel a little uncomfortable seeing two gay men kiss in public, the sorts of people who ask why we’re apologizing now for what our ancestors did to Indigenous Canadians. Poilievre has made free speech a virtue because to a lot of voters, the idea that they can’t say what they used to be able to has resonance.
The problem for the CPC is that Poilievre isn’t a good leader for these voters. He’s fine (enough) at doing the social conservatism stuff – the anti-vaccine mandates stuff, for starters – but he’s an uncomfortable fit for the voters the CPC needs to win the next election. He’s not an economic left winger, he’s not comfortable with spending money and new programs, and he’s either not able to see the damage this will do for him or isn’t willing to change despite it.
It’s worth repeating this – the dental plan is a massive, undeniable win for the exact kinds of voters Poilievre claims that the elites ignore and that he will care about. And Poilievre is going to vote against it, and refused to back it in a press conference, because he’s not actually concerned with those voters. And if he keeps telling them that the elites don’t care about them, they might listen – and it might not help him.
Poilievre is, in reality, everything he pretends not to be – he’s a social liberal suburbanite cosplaying as a cultural conservative, an elite cosplaying as a working class hero, a career politician cosplaying as an outsider. And nobody is able or willing to accept that there are two very different claims flying around as if they’re the same, and they’re not. Is there an opening for the Conservative Party to win an election centered on winning Timmins and Windsor and rural Newfoundland and not the Tory suburbs? Eventually there will be, especially against an NDP that is as myopic and as narrowly focused on winning Twitter as the current one.
Does that mean there’s an opening for Pierre Poilievre? In my view, no. He’s not good at national politics. I make the comparison to Jeremy Corbyn a lot, but ability to win broad majorities of a party selectorate is not the same as an ability to win in the country, and assuming blithely that the opposition will win because the Government is old and a bit shambolic was the logic for Prime Minister Corbyn from 2017 onwards, as it was the case for Prime Minister Shorten in 2018 and 2019.
Poilievre has now been leader of the CPC for nearly 7 months, and in those 7 months he has not made any moves to actually strengthen his own positive case for election. But what he has done is open up wounds that the Liberals will be able to hit at leading up to the next election. Poilievre essentially gave up on a winnable suburban byelection by spending the weekend before it talking about gun rights and now is saying to the voters he’s supposed to be prioritizing that dental care shouldn’t be for everyone, even though he’s had government paid for dental care since 2004.
Poilievre is an untested and unproven political leader getting the benefit of the doubt that isn’t earned when he can’t make it through a press conference without fucking up, and yet I’m supposed to believe people that none of this matters. Well, it does. Poilievre is going into the next election much like O’Toole did – with a credibility issue nobody wants to talk about, and the dental plan just accentuates it. Poilievre will either have to inauthentically pivot to supporting the government’s key accomplishments of this term – blunting his attacks on them as a weak, ineffectual, and bad government – or he’ll have to tell his working class flank that he thinks they don’t deserve dental care.
Seems like a lose-lose to me.
I don’t know if the dental plan will make much of a difference. Will the rural voters recognize that the Liberals or the NPD realized this benefit? Just like it is not that clear at all that the Liberals get credit for massively reducing child poverty through a much more aggressive child benefit plan?
On the other hand, Poilievre cannot help himself. He has only one mode: lie and attack. For example, I have no doubt that he was ready to attack Trudeau for not inviting him for the Biden dinner. Instead of checking if something had gone wrong with the invitation, it was seen as an opportunity for another grievance. Canadians will get tired of this. The question is if they are more tired of Trudeau.
I vote liberals federally and NDP provincially. These new conservatives can take a long walk over a shirt pier. The corruption out of that party is as dirty as their lies. Women should never vote conservatives ever!!! Our prime minister has done more for people yet there’s still that immature hate. Pierre is a bully who WILL take away everything that makes Canada great. He’s already said years ago he’d take away federal pensions and EI no more maturity leave, no child care support, no dental care. Insurance is a bust they support conservatives and deny claims to those of us who have paid into insurances all our working life. Canada will be controlled by the 1% under conservatives. Sadly people have left hate steer their heads in the sand and brought all election crap when the conservatives did the damage not the liberals. I’m losing my hope for churches with these voters in there willing to let go of our crowns and social programs. When hate takes over corruption that means no one has become an adult.
Exhausted on the hate and name calling, when our PM if people actually paid attention to the federal government’s website instead of Canadian media failure has done more for us even women that conservatives wanna take away. The conservatives ruined my life, they are cruel, disgusting and abusive. Yet their voters are the most uneducated on politics