The Conservative heartland has a new leader in Pierre Poilievre

·5 min read
Pierre Poilievre attended a party barbecue in Calgary on July 9, while running for the Conservative Party leadership. Poilievre won the leadership on Saturday night. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Pierre Poilievre attended a party barbecue in Calgary on July 9, while running for the Conservative Party leadership. Poilievre won the leadership on Saturday night. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Pierre Poilievre walked onto the stage of Ottawa's Shaw Conference Centre to roaring cheers on Saturday night.

His win marked the end of the Conservative Party of Canada's leadership race and ushered in a new era for supporters across the country.

Nearly 3,500 kilometres west of where Poilievre made his first address as the leader of the Official Opposition, Albertans were watching as the results came in.

"I don't think it was surprising. If there was any surprise, it was just how incredibly convincing the win was," said Lisa Young, a political science professor at the University of Calgary.

"There was enthusiasm in terms of the number of votes cast and, from the number of memberships, you can really see that Alberta is the sort of spiritual centre of the Conservative Party right now. It's the heartland."

Across Canada, a majority 417,987 voters gave Poilievre a first-ballot win. He won a total of 330 out of the 338 ridings.

In Alberta — to almost nobody's shock — he garnered support from every corner of the province. His rallies, and the events he attended, drew crowds of conservatives itching for a change in government and in policy.

Between all the events in Calgary — including a Stampede barbecue and a rally at the Spruce Meadows Equi-Plex — more than 6,500 people came out to support the Ottawa-area MP.

At the events, he received praise from supporters for his criticism of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government, his views on the cost of housing and inflation, axing the consumer carbon tax and defunding the CBC.

He has also pledged to ban all future vaccine mandates and tied himself closely with the messages held by those who participated in the trucker protests.

Calgary ties

Born in Calgary to a 16-year-old single mother, Poilievre was adopted by Francophone school teacher parents and raised in the city, where he found his political affiliations at university.

He earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Calgary, and was the president of the campus Conservative club during his time there.

On a hometown trip during his campaign, Poilievre stopped by his old stomping grounds where he met with dozens of students hoping to follow in his footsteps.

Joel Dryden/CBC
Joel Dryden/CBC

"Seeing someone that was in my shoes, someone that walked the same halls as me, and now is on pace — in my opinion — to become prime minister of Canada, it's really inspiring," said Leam Dunn-Opper, the president of the University of Calgary's conservative club.

It's a sentiment that was echoed by a Calgary politician.

"Above all else, he does have a national profile. He is a constituency MP. So I think that connection to his riding is something that, you know, I looked to when I first started as an MP as well as a model for what to do. And I think that that's really going to help him," said Calgary Nose Hill Conservative MP Michelle Rempel Garner.

WATCH | Conservatives, analysts react to Poilievre victory:

Reaction from the other side of the aisle, meanwhile, was mixed.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau congratulated Poilievre, writing in a statement that Parliamentarians "must work together to deliver results for people across the country."

Alberta NDP MP Heather McPherson shared a statement from the Canadian Union of Public Employees on Twitter.

"Pierre is a career politician who has been collecting a six-figure salary on the public's dime since he was 24, and he's spent every minute of his time in office fighting against fair wages, good pensions and a better life for working people," the statement from CUPE reads.

Provincial and federal tensions

Despite the excitement some Albertans felt after Poilivere's win, there could be more friction brewing between the province and Ottawa.

A lot of Poilivere's supporters are also supporters of UCP leadership candidate Danielle Smith, said Young, but that could soon be a hard act to balance.

"If Alberta embarks on the journey of exploring the [proposed] Alberta Sovereignty Act, if Danielle Smith is elected, then there will be very difficult relations between Alberta and the federal government," she said.

"Poilivere is the leader of the Opposition, he will be watching that. But he would certainly need to balance his response … so he is going to have to dance very carefully around Danielle Smith and the Sovereignty Act."

In his victory speech, Poilievre referred to using natural resources for the benefit of Canadians — and to deal with some ongoing global issues.

Lori Williams, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said such promises represent a tall order.

"It's not a developed policy just yet, but the idea that that he is obviously supportive of the energy industry in Alberta and wants to use that in an environmentally responsible way that helps with global issues is obviously a good signal to those in Alberta," she said.

"There will be challenges to actually delivering that and sort of delivering that message to all Canadians. Because one of the liabilities the Conservatives have had historically was that they didn't have a credible climate or environmental policy. So that will be one of the challenges that he faces going forward."

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press
Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

But if — or until — his party forms government, there's only so much he can really do.

"There's not much that Poilievre can deliver on while he's in Opposition. The question is, can he win a federal election and then act on some of the promises that he's made?" said Young.

"We would certainly see a lot of excitement if he were able to form a government from Albertans. But we do know that even with the Conservatives in office, there are still regional tensions that don't necessarily go away."