Canada's Conservatives pick populist in bid to oust Trudeau's Liberals

By Steve Scherer

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canada's Conservatives on Saturday picked Pierre Poilievre, a veteran parliamentarian who has promoted bitcoin as way to fight inflation, to spearhead the party's bid to oust the Liberals and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Poilievre, 43, won leadership in the first round of a ranked ballot vote in which more than 400,000 members cast votes. Poilievre becomes the sixth Conservatives leader since 2015, a period in which they have lost three elections to Trudeau.

Poilievre defeated his main competitor Jean Charest, a former Quebec premier, and three others in a campaign that blasted Trudeau and the central bank governor for failing to rein in spiking inflation.

"Tonight begins the journey to replace an old government that costs you more and delivers you less with a new government that puts you first - your paycheck, your retirement, your home, your country," Poilievre said in his victory speech.

The party toned down the event, which had been scheduled for months, after the death of the queen on Thursday, starting it with a minute of silence in her honor. Earlier on Saturday, Canada proclaimed Charles king in a formal ceremony.

As a member of the Commonwealth of former British empire countries, the monarch is Canada's formal head of state.

Poilievre first took a seat in parliament in 2004, days after his 25th birthday, representing a suburban area that includes parts of Ottawa. He served as minister for democratic reform, and then as minister for employment and social development until Trudeau, 50, took office in 2015.

While the new Conservative chief is well known in Ottawa, where he has regularly stood in parliament to fire pointed criticism at Trudeau and his government, he will now have to bolster his profile with the rest of Canada.

He should have plenty of time. Trudeau's support from the left-wing New Democrats means an election could come as late as 2025. Pollsters have said Poilievre will be a formidable opponent, especially if Trudeau runs for a fourth time.

"Here are two people who know exactly how to push each other's buttons, who know exactly how to get underneath each other's skin," said Shachi Kurl, president of polling company Angus Reid Institute, of Poilievre and Trudeau.

In February, Poilievre backed protesters who blocked border crossings and paralyzed downtown Ottawa for three weeks to protest against Trudeau and his COVID-19 vaccine policies.

Poilievre also made firing Bank of Canada Governor Tiff Macklem one of his main campaign promises, blaming the central bank's pandemic bond buying for stoking price increases.

The Conservative party's former leader, ousted in February, had tried to bring the party toward the political center and refused to fully embrace the protesters.

Poilievre "represents ... the deep soul of what the Conservative Party is today," Kurl said.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer, editing by Daniel Wallis)