The deadline for this column was seven weeks ago.
I put off writing this missive since it seemed off-key to introduce readers to an unfamiliar “populist” charlatan while most of us have enjoyed watching a familiar “populist” charlatan implode with such a spectacular and satisfying comeuppance.
Boris Johnson’s drip-by-inevitable-drip demise has been a pleasure to behold – cut down as he was by once loyal acolytes who, like their lie-detector-allergic boss, are, of course, more interested in position and power than the national interest.
I did not want to spoil the happy, post-lockdown party.
The other reason why I have postponed introducing discerning readers to Pierre Poilievre – Canada’s decidedly less flamboyant but equally ambitious and rank facsimile of the I’m-not-going-anywhere-yet British prime minister – is that every moment spent thinking or writing about the presumptive Conservative Party leader is a moment lost to superficiality and mendacity.
Alas, as matters stand, Poilievre looks poised to be crowned leader officially in early September and given much of the Canadian electorate’s attraction to stunt-addicted, bereft of what could even remotely be considered a novel idea career politicians, he may soon become prime minister as well.
Hence, this belated column.
That this stunt-addicted, bereft of what could even remotely be considered a novel idea dauphin could replace the current stunt-addicted, bereft of what could even be considered a novel idea dilettante as prime minister is a measure of how unserious Canada has become.
Canada is often dismissed as a “middle power” – a “B” movie-like country grasping for stardom and gravitas. Poilievre is the embodiment of the genre – cheap and forgettable. He is the antonym of seriousness. These days, that seems to be the low bar for high office.
Evidence of Poilievre’s flippant, inconsequential nature abounds.
Apparently, he is a big fan of the obscure clinical psychologist turned best-selling self-help guru to aimless souls searching for a generic father figure with a cockeyed compass, Jordan Peterson.
When he was asked during an all-candidates debate what he was reading lately, the 43-year-old Poilievre smiled a giddy-schoolboy-with-a-crush-grin before volunteering that he was busy absorbing the “wisdom” and “lessons ” of Peterson’s slim magnum opus – “12 Rules for Life”.
That “wisdom” includes this corrective popular, if memory serves, with first grade teachers: “Stand up straight with your shoulders back.” Or this puerile, but ever reliable admonition to “pet a cat when you encounter one on the street”.
I gather that in Poilievre’s juvenile calculus, Peterson and his jejune musings about life et al., constitute the observations of an indispensable “public intellectual”.
My taste in Canadian “public intellectuals” defers to demure thinkers like the late Northrop Frye who spent a lot of time in the classroom and library producing his immortal scholarship rather than promoting an ephemeral, albeit profitable, brand on Twitter or YouTube.
I know. I know. To Poilievre and his allies – at shrinking “broadsheets” like the Daily Telegraph – who pretends to adore the “common man”, I am an “elitist” who scoffs from on high at the troubles and experience of the aforementioned “common man”. In my defense, I have read George Orwell’s exposé of bleak, pre-war life in England’s industrial north, The Road to Wigan Pier. So there.
In any event, in one of his agreeable tête-à-têtes with his mercurial – to put it charitably – intellectual idol, Peterson, Poilievre reportedly had this to say: “What bothers me most about politics in Canada is that there is a comfortable establishment that sits on top and governs for itself at everyone else’s expense, and the people who do the nation’s work – the plumber, the electrician, the truck driver, the police officer – have almost no share of voice. I want to empower those people and disempower the political establishment. That’s my mission, that’s my purpose.”
Poilievre’s spigot of cliché-ridden sophistry made me laugh. I am obliged to link to Poilievre’s Wikipedia entry if only to remind the preening anti-establishment champion of the forgotten working class that he has never been a plumber, electrician, truck driver or police officer.
Instead, the Bitcoin-peddling Poilievre has devoted his adult working life preparing for and sucking from the public bosom and is now eligible for a hefty-for-life pension as a 100 percent-proof member of the “comfortable establishment” he derides.
Captain Everyman was first elected to Parliament in June 2004 when he was 25 years old. He has never left Parliament Hill – figuratively speaking. Defender of the working [wo]man, my expletive deleted.
For several years, Poilievre was a pit bull-like cabinet minister whose “mission” was, in keeping with then Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s vindictive modus operandi, not only to disempower their opponents inside and outside the House of Commons, but disembowel them – figuratively speaking.
Captain Everyman leveraged his privilege and influence in the cabinet – otherwise known as the “political establishment” – to deride and defame any Canadian who challenged the Harper government’s disfiguring understanding of what “governing” meant and who, beyond “old-stock Canadians”, was worthy of being described as a Canadian.
Poilievre has long preferred to “share” and “empower” the “voices” of a disagreeable rump of Canadians who consider sacrifice in pursuit of a common good as an affront to their “freedom” to be intubated and die a long, lonely death courtesy of coronavirus and at others’ expense.
Predictably, he cheered when that disagreeable rump – wrapped in Canadian flags and paintball camouflage gear – occupied Ottawa with blaring monster trucks, bouncy castles and hot tubs and wailed like colicky babies that a scientifically sound vaccine constitutes a lethal threat to rights and freedoms enriched in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms they once studied briefly in high school but probably have not read since.
When the disagreeable rump returned to Ottawa recently to exercise their right to parade their selfishness and stupidity, Poilievre stood shoulder to unvaccinated shoulder with them – without a mask.
Captain Everyman tweeted a photo showing him walking alongside a freedom-loving patriot who appeared on a YouTube broadcast in January featuring other freedom-loving patriots who hoped the “freedom” convoy “would bring down” an elected government and erect “gallows” on Parliament Hill to express their fondness for and fidelity to those fragile freedoms too many Canadians take for granted.
To paraphrase the irrepressible Donald Trump, once a stunt artist, always a stunt artist.
Still, the nadir of Poilievre’s stunt artistry arrived earlier this month when Captain Everyman posted a soliloquy he recorded and posted on his Twitter account to describe – complete with a Lawrence Welk-like musical score – how reclaimed wood is a metaphor for “reclaiming” Canada’s “freedoms”.
Poilievre has gone from silly to surreal.
In an effort to impress, Poilievre confused a valedictorian’s hackneyed earnestness with profundity and, in the embarrassing process, revealed how trivial he and his analogy are.
Poilievre’s “reclaiming” nonsense is a not so imaginative variation of Trump’s nativist dog-whistle sans the baseball cap.
It worked for Trump and, I suspect, Poilievre is convinced, despite the prevailing political tide, that it will work for him.
If that happens, Canadians will have confirmed that a nation that resembles a B-movie in character and purpose suits them just fine.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.