He has the charisma of not being charismatic
Pierre Poilievre meets hundreds of supports in Prince George on Friday night, April 8, 2022.
It is not the Wedding Feast at Cana but to some it’s close to an equal transformation. It belongs in the category of things, like turning water to wine, that are not supposed to happen, things which defy the common order of nature.
What could I be referring to? There is obviously only one answer. I refer to the campaign of a gentleman, whom I saluted in these very pages not so long ago as the talented Mr. Poilievre. The terror of Question Period as he is tremblingly known in the anxious precincts of the Liberal front bench is in the very early days of his campaign for the Conservative leadership. And already he has exploded the basic understanding of what Canadians have always understood of such campaigns; that they should be criminally dull, stocked with grey and forgettable candidates only, and conducted with less excitement than a bowl of three-day old oatmeal.
Something almost unforgivable is occurring at his rallies, something surely beyond the foresight of even the country’s most perceptive pundits.
People are showing up to them. In large numbers. Correction, in numbers that would sate the ego of a rock star. Whether it’s Toronto or Lindsay or Vancouver or Kelowna or Vernon, it’s packed halls and overflow crowds. What can this mean? It is certainly not the leadership contest itself, for out of the double handful of other contenders most at this stage can only name two or three, and most of the whole lot can only draw a trickle of supporters to their, almost private, appearances.
What can account for this phenomenon? I would like to put it down to Pierre Poilievre’s instant rejection of the Trudeau carbon tax — a rejection without equivocation. He promises not to pause it, he is not against it because it is coming at a bad, inflationary, time. He’s just against it. And it does amount to something when any political figure outright and without qualification stomps on the cardinal (useless) pillar of this government’s obsessive global warming fixation. It shows a certain clarity of mind and more than a glint of sanity, neither characteristic overabundant in current politics.
It is also a signal, which I hope arches into a full beacon, that the war against the western provinces, which is what in effect the global warming crusade amounts to, will end, that the terrific burdens placed on Alberta and western industry by this manic crusade will be lifted.
However, Poilievre’s rejection of the carbon tax alone is not what explains the multitudes that have gathered in places other than the predictably favourable regions of the country.
There has to be something else. Is it charisma? That peculiar and unaccountable grace of person or manner that singles out certain public figures and wins them special status. We have in fact had a very prominent recent example right here in Canada, though the fund of that particular charisma has been seriously overdrawn of late. It may even, like the budget, be in serious deficit.
Conservative leadership candidate Pierre Poilievre arrives at an anti-carbon tax rally in Ottawa on Thursday, March 31, 2022. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Patrick Doyle
Well, Mr. Poilievre has been pointed at in the press for numerous reasons. Some see him as an attack dog. If I may jumble the metaphor that is a hound that will not hunt. He is a precise and logical questioner and performs the role of opposition voice — whenever Mr. Trudeau allows the Commons to function — efficiently and with style. Some others in the press portray him as mean, and they may even believe that. They are mistaking rigorous criticism with an aspect of temperament. But few or none have even celebrated or remarked on his “charisma.”
No. He is not charismatic. And that’s, in this moment, his gift.
Or to state matters another way, he has the charisma of not being charismatic. Bells, whistles, tinsel, glitter and lights are all very fine in their way, and in due proportion. They surely add to any performance. But without the performance, without the actual show itself that is all they are … just bells and whistles, tinsel and glitter, and light on an empty stage. At best, over time, a tiresome irritation, at worst a cheat.
My guess at why Poilievre has caught the moment and draws such eager numbers is precisely that he is not, in the way journalists use the term, exciting. That what some might call dull is actually substance. And substance has been on a long and painful holiday from Canadian politics for half a decade.
Sweet words in a soft voice, pious musings and aching apologies, ever-so-earnest declarations of personal and political virtue — it’s all gotten just a little steamy in the house of Canadian politics. So along comes a grounded, deliberately unflashy, solid-in-his-convictions candidate, and — most important — one who believes that Canada has core values, and should not be the servant of global climatism, and no wonder the crowds show up.
They have been waiting for a change.