This is a special edition of a series of opinion columns written by Josh Lieblein for The CJN.
Political observers would have you believe that Pierre Poilievre’s victory can be put down to a willingness to play fast and loose with the truth—coupled with conspiracy theories that are vaguely antisemitic.
In truth, the seeds of Poilievre’s victory were planted in 2015, when the Conservative Party of Canada—which was four years into its first majority government rule—released a commercial called “The Interview.“
That’s the ad where a bunch of suits in a boardroom are rejecting Justin Trudeau, because running the country isn’t an entry level job. He’s just not ready!
When this thing dropped, it was treated as a masterstroke in “defining your opponent.”
This work of art, we were told, went relatively easy on Trudeau because, “well y’know, you can’t beat a guy like that up too much or else the women will feel sorry for him.” To that end, the ad featured not one but two women, one of which spent the ad’s entire minute-length in horrified wide-eye at Trudeau’s irresponsible ideas, while the other sighed about how she wasn’t “saying no forever… just not now.”
A South Asian gentleman—presumably representingthe entirety of the 905 area code, where elections are won and lost—delivered the absolute crusher of a finale when he glanced at the glossy photo accompanying the job application and quipped, “Nice hair, though!”
Today, seven years and three Team Trudeau victories later, this ad stands revealed for what it actually was at the time.
Not just a wild misreading of the political room, but the first of many blindingly obvious tells of the effect Trudeau has, and continues to have on the CPC. Namely, the mere sight of him reduces them to incoherent rage, combined with shock and disbelief at the fact that anyone could bring themselves to vote for him.
So, you can see how having to articulate reasons why they don’t like him to people who are undecided or agnostic could be a bit of an afterthought.
And, if you go back and watch the ad, you can see the disdain for Trudeau behind the lines uttered by the unsuspecting actors. He’s never had a real job! He says things before thinking! His policies are superficial!
Now, because the CPC simply cannot get over the fact that “Just Not Ready Justin” continues to enjoy enough popularity to keep him in office, they’ve spent the last seven years trying and failing to hide their rage and disgust at Trudeau’s presence—so they can look like a “serious party” as opposed to the bunch of grievance-mongers they actually are.
This requires them to run a constant approach from the top down best defined as sha shtil, the Yiddish expression for “Quiet! Make no noise!” It involves expelling a member here, interfering in a nomination there, stacking policy conferences, making cringey appeals to voters who will never vote for them, etc.
Enter Pierre Poilievre, a man who has no time for any of the above—and who’s willing to embody this rage.
The party could have expelled Poilievre the way they did the rest of the unfortunates that they cast by the wayside, but he’s too good of an earner for that. That, and he was willing to play ball for a time, and abandon his first exploratory bid when he was told.
When he finally did run, promising to say the quiet part out loud and often, the CPC deployed the exact same campaign against Pierre Poilievre in 2022 that they did against Justin Trudeau in 2015: He’s never had a real job! He says things before thinking! His policies are superficial!
They needed a figurehead, so they dragged Jean Charest out of retirement and let him wander about the country speaking to mostly half-full meeting rooms at retirement residences.
Readers who remember Quebec premier Jean Charest—that scourge of separatism and friend of the Jews—and expected to see that guy on the campaign trail, were instead treated to this living monument to history trying to convince everyone that Poilievre’s catchy slogans were a bad thing.
Meanwhile, the actual campaign busied itself with scrutinizing everything Poilievre was doing and saying in the faint hope they would find some kind of kill shot that disqualified him and returned us all to the nice safe status quo of sha shtil.
Ridiculous articles asking why he was so angry. Hair-tearing over Poilievre’s embrace of bitcoin. Garment-rending over his attacks on the Bank of Canada. Scornful laughter when his campaign released a video of him praising the quality of wood in a house. Insinuations that he was fanning the flames of disagreeable and abusive behaviour towards women.
Whatever valid points were being made in doing all of the above did not change the fact that the campaign was letting their hatred and disgust for Poilievre get in the way of their pitch to the “wide-open centre” that a vote for Charest represented a return to normalcy and civility.
Even as those missteps were being made, the Charest campaign was also misreading the room when it came to traditional CPC voters. They didn’t want another campaign where punches are pulled for fear of offending someone; they want a leader who will bash Trudeau’s smug perfect face in (in an electoral sense)—much like Trudeau literally did to Conservative senator Patrick Brazeau, right before he did the same (again, in an electoral sense) to Stephen Harper.
But, the most fatal error of all was that while all this was taking place, the Liberals were unambiguously signalling to their base that Poilievre and his people weren’t welcome in their Canada. And the Charest campaign was all too willing to join in. Which, in turn, signalled to voting members that Charest was running against them.
So, now that the sha shtil approach has finally failed, what are Jewish organizations to do?
Obviously, batten down the hatches and prepare for an actual battle for the soul of the country, where camps of voters are motivated to fight for their respective parties instead of just aggressively guarding their territory.
Struggles over Israel, struggles over antisemitism in politics, and struggles involving assorted culture wars will continue to break into public view. Jews all along the political axis will certainly end up caught in these crossfires.
And if you’re a big wheel at a Jewish organization who’s relied on sha shtil and enforced consensus to smooth over disputes?
Well, you might find those tactics to be less effective next time around.
Josh Lieblein can be reached at [email protected] for your response to Doorstep Postings.