Pierre Poilievre's leadership team appointments reward loyal MPs

·4 min read

While Pierre Poilievre’s nine-person leadership team is “reasonably balanced” by region, the new Conservative leader is likely more focused on rewarding loyal MPs, say political scientists.

MPs from six provinces are represented on his leadership team: two each from Ontario, Quebec and Alberta, and one from New Brunswick, B.C. and Saskatchewan, respectively. The biggest name by far is Saskatchewan MP and former party leader Andrew Scheer, who will be House leader.

Every member of the leadership team endorsed Poilievre in the leadership race except Quebec MP Luc Berthold, who did not endorse anyone in his role as deputy leader of the party. Berthold will now serve as Scheer’s deputy.

“[Poilievre] doesn't strike me as the kind of leader [who] spends a lot of time worrying about things like regional balance… He's not that kind of apologist, for better or worse,” said Donald Desserud, professor of political science at the University of Prince Edward Island. “I think he's going to look more at the individuals and whether they're able to carry through with his message.”

Scheer was a clear choice for House leader, said Duane Bratt, a political scientist with Mount Royal University in Calgary. A former leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Scheer also served as Speaker of the House and has a good grasp of parliamentary procedure, Bratt told Canada’s National Observer in an interview.

The deputy leader position is shared by Alberta MP Tim Uppal and Toronto-area MP Melissa Lantsman. Both check some diversity boxes: Uppal is South Asian and Lantsman is a gay woman. Perhaps more importantly, though, Lantsman is “unapologetically conservative” and actively worked for Poilievre, said Bratt.

Uppal served as co-chair of Poilievre’s leadership campaign, was minister of democratic reform (and later multiculturalism) in Stephen Harper’s cabinet and led the party’s “ethnic outreach efforts” under former leader Erin O’Toole. There’s very little racial or gender diversity in the Conservative caucus, but University of Guelph political science professor Julie Simmons says she thinks Uppal’s appointment is Poilievre’s way to show racialized Canadians — particularly voters in the diverse southern Ontario region — that his new party includes them.

B.C. MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay will be the party’s whip, with Alberta MP Chris Warkentin as deputy whip and question period co-ordinator. Ontario MP Eric Duncan will be the party-caucus liaison and Quebec MP Pierre Paul-Hus is the Quebec lieutenant. Poilievre introduced a new position, called “caucus committee co-ordinator,” which New Brunswick MP Jake Stewart will take on. Stewart did not respond to requests for comment on what this new role will entail.

Poilievre’s decision to reward loyalty is also illustrated by the House of Commons seating plan, said Bratt, which seats rival leadership candidates Leslyn Lewis and Scott Aitchison in the backbenches.

“The rule is, if you're further away from the floor and you're higher up, that's an indication of less importance,” said Bratt. “And you look at someone like Michelle Rempel Garner, who was seen as a star in the Conservative Party … [she] is no longer seen as a star.”

Rempel Garner — who endorsed Patrick Brown in the leadership race — is seated beside B.C. MP Ed Fast, who stepped down from his role as finance critic in May to focus on supporting former Quebec premier Jean Charest’s leadership bid.

Most members of the leadership team are not well-known to Canadians and are going to be cutting their teeth in their new roles, getting more media attention and developing profiles for themselves, said Alex Marland, a professor and head of the department of political science at Memorial University.

In 1985, during Brian Mulroney’s Progressive Conservative majority, four young, unknown Liberal MPs made a name for themselves as vocal opponents of the Mulroney government. Several went on to hold cabinet positions.

“They became known as the ‘Rat Pack’ because what they did was they were constantly getting under the skin of the prime minister,” Marland told Canada’s National Observer in an interview.

This energetic young team was able to get a lot done, despite the Liberals having lost 95 seats in the 1984 federal election, said Marland. He wonders whether Poilievre’s leadership team will be able to capture the public imagination like the Rat Pack did, or if attention will remain focused largely on the leader.

“That’s why … to most people, [the leadership team] doesn't matter because they're never going to hear who these people are unless they give us a reason to pay attention,” said Marland. But for that to happen, the leader has to give the team agency and trust certain people to speak out and have their backs, which isn’t always the case, he added.

Natasha Bulowski, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Canada's National Observer