On the heels of Pierre Poilievre’s victory in the Conservative Party of Canada’s (CPC) leadership election, polling and party data indicates that huge waves of voters are purchasing political party memberships and supporting the Conservatives under his leadership. On campus, the Conservative Students’ Association (CPC McGill) is also reporting a growth in membership.
On Sept. 10, Poilievre was elected leader of the Official Opposition after a record-setting victory in the Conservative leadership race, earning 68.15 per cent of the vote on the first ballot—an immediate victory requiring no subsequent rounds of voting. Poilievre’s platform centres on limited government intervention. He promises to promote free speech, build more pipelines, cut the carbon tax, and protect the rights of firearm owners.
Another shift marked by the leadership race was the number of registered party members who voted. September’s leadership election saw a voter turnout of around 675,000 compared to approximately 270,000 in the 2020 race.
In an interview with The McGill Tribune, Kelly Gordon, assistant professor of political science at McGill, attributed much of Poilievre’s success to his ability to run an efficient campaign, as well as general fatigue with previous Conservative leaders and current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
“He ran a really sophisticated digital campaign, he was tapping into a lot of salient issues in the political zeitgeist,” Gordon said. “I think maybe the [CPC] is sick of losing. They lose a lot, and so are maybe ready to mobilize around somebody like Poilievre.”
Gordon noted that the CPC’s high polling stats could not, however, be entirely attributed to Poilievre’s tactical political manoeuvrings. Canadians are increasingly feeling the deleterious effects of economic downturn, which Gordon believes Poilievre is tapping into to garner youth support.
“I think part of it is a frustration with the Liberal Party, and [part of it is] this kind of political moment,” Gordon said. “Soaring costs of living, unaffordable housing, and all of these things that sort of disproportionately affect youth. So it is not surprising that there is some kind of political mobilization happening right now, and maybe [Poilievre] has been able to sort of tap into the youth because of the issues that we are facing right now.”
Nathaniel Saad, U3 Management and president of CPC McGill, told the Tribune that the CPC was not the only organization to notice growing engagement with the conservative platform.
“I was actually really shocked,” Saad said. “Just as the [CPC] got record numbers of membership in their ranks for this leadership election, we actually more than doubled our membership in the last few months.”
Whereas Saad conveyed optimism about the CPC’s growing popularity on campus, Peter Cocks, U3 Arts and Liberal McGill co-vice-president Communications, is unimpressed by Poilievre and unconvinced of the CPC’s ability to capture McGill students’ political interest.
“Conservative McGill is going to have to sell to [the student] body a candidate who can not answer any questions on […] issues of abortion, gay marriage, cannabis legalization,” Cocks said. “And even if he does give an answer, it is not going to look pretty to the student body at McGill.”
Like Cocks, Angelica Voutsinas, U3 Arts and president of Liberal McGill, is concerned about the potential ramifications of the social conservative movement both on campus and across Canada.
“All of a sudden we are seeing this dramatic shift to the right that is tapping into a base of people that are going to want their views represented,” Voutsinas said in an interview with the Tribune. “I think that could be a scary thing, depending on how it all plays out.”
For his part, Saad noted that the McGill conservative community remains hopeful about the direction of the CPC, Poilievre as a leader, and the growing conservative movement on campus.
“There’s a wide range of opinions in the conservative club, but I can definitely say that the majority of us right now are optimistic,” Saad said. “We are eager, we are excited to see what [Poilievre] is going to do in the House of Commons.”