Sabrina Maddeaux: Calling Pierre Poilievre a ‘populist’ is a lazy scare tactic used by the elites he threatens


Pierre Poilievre, a candidate for Conservative party leadership, speaks with supporters at Spruce Meadows in Calgary on Tuesday, April 12, 2022. Steven Wilhelm/Postmedia

There were certainly populist elements to Donald Trump’s campaign, but he is not a true populist, even if it is convenient for anti-populists to paint him as one. Calling Trump a populist, however, allows fearmongerers to undermine populist movements and politicians without actually having to provide proof for all the «isms» they imply. Take, for example, Poilievre. When elites and opponents warn he’s a populist leader, they hope voters will also hear «nativist,» «racist,» and «fascist» when there’s no evidence to back any of this –– and certainly none more damning than photos of our current prime minister sporting blackface.

They seek to equate Poilievre with Trump, which, if you take a minute to think about it, makes little sense beyond his ability to draw crowds and utilize populist messaging. Painting all politicians who tap into populism with the same brush is like saying all startup owners are fraudster criminals because, like Theranos’ Elizabeth Holmes, they use tech jargon and aim to attract investors. The irony is populist ideas, largely from the early 20th century, are responsible for many of the economic and political norms we take for granted today. It was the populist «Free Silver» movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s that led the charge to move away from a gold standard that heavily indebted farmers and workers.

There’s an interesting echo of this in Poilievre’s controversial embrace of crypto currency. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a populist leader, and his New Deal was especially populist. While it may seem counterintuitive, Poilievre’s populist tendencies have more in common with FDR or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez than they do a politician like Trump. , there are populist leaders on both the right and left.

Canada’s left has largely abandoned populism since Jagmeet Singh became NDP leader. This, too, helps explain the willingness of non-Conservatives and even non-voters to support Poilievre –– there’s simply no populist alternative. Of course, one can still debate Poilievre’s ideas and there will be many who don’t agree with him for legitimate reasons. Just as being a populist doesn’t mean a politician is inherently bad, neither does it automatically mean they’re a good solution for society’s ills.

Using «populist» as a pejorative to dismiss Poilievre is nothing more than an elitist scare tactic meant to appeal to the very fear and hate gatekeepers accuse him of propagating.

Source: Sabrina Maddeaux | NP

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